Living in a legal aid desert, what option do housing clients have?
Owing to drastic cuts in legal aid spending, legal aid housing providers are disappearing in large areas of England and Wales.
As a result Legal Aid “deserts” have arisen. These are areas where no one can get housing advice as there are simply no providers. The Law Society have provided an interactive map to show how many providers there are in local areas.
Many firms appear to have either abandoned legal aid funding or have had to diversify. The diversification can lead to conflicts of interest arising (the firm acting for the opponent for example). This is leaving individuals entitled to legal aid without any representation.
The cuts to legal aid spending have resulted in 1/3 of areas having only one or no providers of legal aid advice for housing. This has led to a large number of individuals being unable to obtain legal aid for housing matters.
The Department for Communities and Local Government conducted the English Housing Survey covering the period 2014 to 2015. This has revealed that there has been a continued increase in renters in England. This is concerning as increasing numbers of tenants will now be unable to obtain the representation or advice that they need. Also the knock on effect of the Housing Benefit cap has meant that households are having to commit a lot more money towards rent. In essence there are a number of renters who would be unable to afford legal representation when in a legal aid desert.
These issues will surely result in more undefended claims for possession owing to lack of advice. There are an array of possible defences available to tenants when possession proceedings are brought against them. However these defences are more successfully identified and articulated by legal representation. For example a breach in pre-action protocol often requires a deep and close analysis to bring as a defence. Also it has to be presented to the Court in a convincing fashion.
It is clear that getting advice as a tenant has never been more important.
There have been calls from the Law Society for the government to urgently provide a remedy. However it would take time for the government to provide a solution if they intend to at all.
However those people living in these “deserts” can still seek assistance. At Hodge Jones and Allen Solicitors we are able and willing to help people from all over the country. Dedicated members of our team take phone calls and emailed enquiries. The Housing Department’s continued dedication to innovation means that we can manage our client’s cases electronically following the initial meeting.
Our help and assistance may be the difference between a tenant being evicted or retaining their right to live in their home.