Early advice in housing and family law – The Law Society calls for legal aid to be reinstated
With only a few weeks left until the General Election, we can all expect to be swamped via the news media with reasons to vote for one political party or another. Not surprisingly top on each of the 3 main parties’ home agenda is solving the housing crisis. No one knows at present whether these parties can deliver on their housing specific promises, in Labour’s case this is the building of new homes in their hundreds thousands, and of course no one can accurately predict the full cost of Brexit and the impact this may have on money ear marked for house building on a large scale. However, what these parties can guarantee is to help those constituents on low incomes and in desperate need of advice to stop a housing problem escalating out of control.
LASPO Act 2012
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012, which was born out of the Coalition Agreement, removed all but the most serious of housing problems out of scope so that since April 2013 legal aid has not been available for those with a not so serious housing problem. Unfortunately many of us, either through our work, our own experiences or through friends or family, know that nearly all housing problems, no matter how small, are perceived as very serious to the person affected and if left ignored can result in the problem becoming unmanageable.
The Law Society recently published their ‘General election 2017: Our vision for law and justice’ which outlines their priorities for the next government. The Law Society is calling on the new government to ensure:
- Legal certainty is maintained in light of Brexit
- Every individual has effective access to justice
- Human rights are safeguarded in business and modern slavery is combated.
With regards to access to justice, the Law Society has listed 9 actions for the new government with number 1 as “Reinstate legal aid for early advice, particularly in housing and family law. Without early advice, relatively minor legal problems can escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, and put pressure on public services.”
We at HJA support The Law Society’s vision for law and justice. Why should a qualifying tenant living in a property with disrepair have to wait until the disrepair poses a serious risk of harm to health and safety before they can get free advice under legal aid? Equally why should a qualifying tenant have to wait until a Housing Benefit problem, usually through no fault of their own, escalates to the point where the landlord initiates possession proceedings, before they can get free advice under legal aid? The Law Society has calculated that legal aid for early housing advice could be restored for around £2 million a year.
HJA support for reinstatement of legal aid
It is imperative that the next government does everything within its power to resolve the UK housing crisis by creating affordable homes for all and by vetting the standard, quality and cost of accommodation for rent in the private sector, however the next government must also not lose sight of the other actions it can take to assist those with housing problems. We echo the Law Society’s call for legal aid to be reinstated to all qualifying persons experiencing a housing problem such as so called ‘minor’ disrepair or rent arrears which they are unable to resolve themselves.