The Law Society of England and Wales has welcomed the proposal for tenants facing eviction to receive enhanced legal assistance.
“It would be a welcome step to make non-means tested legal advice available to those facing repossession before their case actually ends up in court” says Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“While having the option of additional advice on welfare benefits and debt is an added bonus. We cannot underestimate the value of early legal advice as it can help address problems before they escalate, preventing cases from going to court unnecessarily.
“However, this well-intentioned move may well be hampered by the desperate shortage of legal aid-funded solicitors with the relevant expertise in large swathes of the country which has created housing legal aid deserts, affecting millions of people. Those facing repossession will not be able to access vital legal advice if there is no legal aid provider in their area.
“While the funding commitments announced in the Autumn Budget were a welcome step in the right direction, much more investment is needed to ensure legal representation is available to those without the means to pay for it.
“Legal advice must be available to all tenants facing the loss of their homes, particularly when homelessness is a likely outcome. We welcome these proposals but are concerned that the scheme cannot function if the lack of legal aid providers is not addressed.”
The Ministry of Justice has sent out for consultation proposals for an enhancement of the existing Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme.
Specifically the MoJ wants:
- to remodel and rebrand it to become a new Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service (HLPAS), incorporating both the existing service of advice and representation at court but also early legal advice before court;
- expanding the scope of legal aid so that HLPAS providers can offer early legal advice on social welfare law matters to individuals facing procession proceedings;
- contracts for individual courts rather than larger geographical areas;
- allowing providers to claim for the court duty fee in addition to a Legal Help fee for follow on work;
- introducing a set attendance fee for all schemes, replacing the existing nil session payment.
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