Authors:James Sandbach
Last updated:2023-09-18
Housing law crisis: advice deserts open up across the country
The Law Society’s new interactive map of legal aid provision for housing advice,1View the interactive map at: using the Legal Aid Agency’s own data, provides an extremely distressing illustration of just how little access to free advice is left for people with serious housing problems.
Rural areas have been hit the worst by legal aid cuts, with counties like Shropshire and Suffolk registering no housing legal aid providers at all. But the effect has been widespread, including the closure of nine Shelter services, along with around a fifth of the Law Centres Network and the loss of Citizens Advice offices in Herefordshire, Slough, and many other areas. The scale of these advice deserts in housing law is largely accounted for by the high number of non-profit agencies dropping out of the legal aid scheme.
While legal aid is still theoretically available for possession proceedings, homelessness and serious cases of disrepair, the number of people getting advice on housing law is continuing to fall. In around a third of county areas (and a few metropolitan ones also) there is just one housing legal aid provider; this can result in a conflict of interest as housing law practitioners cannot be expected to represent both tenants and their landlords. The restrictive scope of housing legal aid also means that households with landlord, rental, housing benefit or mortgage arrears problems are effectively prohibited from accessing advice and representation before their problems spiral into a crisis. So not only does the inadequate supply of free legal advice on housing fail to prevent housing law problems, but the paucity of providers cannot manage the demand and priority systems can leave people waiting to get legal help even when they are facing an imminent crisis in keeping a roof over their heads.
In around a third of county areas (and a few metropolitan ones also) there is just one housing legal aid provider.
At a time when homelessness, especially street homelessness, has been rising, and the affordable housing crisis is becoming one of the biggest problems facing the country, this shortage of free housing advice is nothing less than disgraceful. And the housing crisis is no longer just a ‘London problem’ of ‘generation rent’. Research by the Resolution Foundation has tracked how the growing gap between earnings and house prices has led to secure ownership falling right across the country, forcing people to rent The proportion of people who securely own their own home has fallen across every part of the UK since peaking in early 2003, and in some key urban areas it has fallen to little over 55 per cent from a high point of around 70 per cent.
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The Law Society’s legal aid deserts heat map: current number of providers with housing contracts.
As we approach the time for the government’s post-implementation review of LASPO, adequate access to housing advice, especially on tenancy issues, must be addressed as a priority.