Advice deserts: housing law provision getting worse, updated research suggests
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Marc Bloomfield
Updated research from The Law Society shows that nearly 60 per cent of the population in England and Wales live in areas with only one or no housing legal aid providers. The legal aid advice deserts research was first published by The Law Society in 2016. The latest version was published last week and while it is not directly comparable with the original research,1The 2016 research was based on Legal Aid Agency procurement areas while the latest version is based on local government areas. The Law Society argues that it shows that the situation for people trying to obtain legal aid for housing matters is getting worse. Its president, Christina Blacklaws, said: ‘People facing homelessness or trying to challenge a rogue landlord increasingly can’t get the expert legal advice they desperately need.’2Left-behind communities out in the cold without publicly funded housing legal advice’, Law Society press release, 25 April 2019.
According to an analysis of the figures prepared by The Law Society for MPs and peers,3Parliamentary briefing: legal aid deserts, 24 April 2019. 22m people (37 per cent of the total population) live in local authority areas with no legal aid provider for housing law, and a further 13m live in an area with only one provider. Cornwall is an example of an area with only one provider. Legal Action has checked the availability of housing legal advice in Cornwall and has learnt that a single specialist solicitor who works part time is expected to cover the county, which has a population of over half a million spread over 1,300 square miles.
‘Outside of large conurbations, it seems legal aid housing solicitors are becoming as rare as hens’ teeth,’ said LAG director Carol Storer. She believes ‘many families facing eviction are in low-paid jobs, working long hours to make ends meet. They cannot be expected to travel long distances to get advice’.
The cuts to scope under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and a fee cut of 41 per cent in real terms over the past 10 years are cited by The Law Society as part of the reason for the decline in the availability of housing legal aid services. Earlier this month, Legal Action highlighted the story of T A Law, the Swansea-based firm that is closing its social welfare law service, which includes housing law, after losing its fight to stay in business.
‘Providing legal advice so that families can keep a roof over their heads needs urgent action from the government,’ said Storer.
 
1     The 2016 research was based on Legal Aid Agency procurement areas while the latest version is based on local government areas. »
2     Left-behind communities out in the cold without publicly funded housing legal advice’, Law Society press release, 25 April 2019. »
3     Parliamentary briefing: legal aid deserts, 24 April 2019. »

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LAG
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