Authors:Adrian Brazier
Last updated:2024-04-15
Why I left the work that I love
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Sun setting behind houses
Long-standing housing lawyer Adrian Brazier on what drove him to step away from the social justice coalface.
After nearly 18 years of working in social welfare law, advising and assisting many people, representing those under the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme, I know exactly what it takes to provide assistance at the coalface.
I have so much admiration for my colleagues who continue to work tirelessly, fighting for the rights of the everyday person encountering difficult legal issues in their life. I do not feel there is enough recognition for the tremendous job that my now former colleagues do.
Over the past few years, the stresses and strains have only become more intense; the usual workload has increased to breaking point; the bureaucracy by both government and the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) only deepens.
Up until a few months ago, I was happy to get up every day and fight the good fight, promoting access to justice and ensuring that clients had the benefit of the best advice possible. However, the demands placed on those of us doing this work have increased to a level that pushed me to breaking point. I had to make a tough decision for the sake of my own sanity: if I stayed, I might suffer a significant detriment to my health. By leaving, I would lose something I love doing, but save myself from spiralling into further despair and ultimately being unable to properly function.
How has it come to this? Well, social welfare law is not glamorous; it’s hard. You strive, day after day, to ensure that your clients have roofs over their heads and homes free from disrepair. Surely, these are things that should be a given and not require daily pleading to local authorities or challenges against often very unscrupulous landlords? It has become a lot harder, with local authorities struggling to source suitable accommodation, leading to an increase in pre-action steps.
Then, of course, we have an increase in possession claims under Housing Act 1988 s21, placing additional strain on the provision of homeless assistance. While a significant amount of work was done to pressure the current government to scrap s21, this seems to have fallen away into a massive void. As someone who had been advocating for s21 possessions to be abolished alongside the right to buy schemes, it has been somewhat of a nightmare. We are left fighting s21 claims and fighting local authorities for basic housing, which in 2024 we should not be.
The standard of accommodation has fallen to an all-time low. We all know that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) took away many people’s opportunity go to court and obtain an order for specific performance and damages (the damages side being taken out of scope). This has only made it harder to obtain legal aid funding. I had many cases that were run under the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions Claims (England), which resulted in a stalemate of not being able to get to court to issue proceedings because the LAA said no to funding. Even when it was clear, with supporting medical evidence, that a client was at great risk, the number of rejections for legal aid was completely outrageous. This may be why the Housing Ombudsman Service is now swamped.
My last organisation decided that the resources I was having to spend fighting the LAA to obtain funding in order to bring disrepair cases could no longer be justified and we would no longer do this kind of work. This is obviously frustrating and, in my view, does not sit well with trying to assist clients and resolve their issues. I know from colleagues in other practices that this is not a narrow issue but is being experienced all over the country. The only way this can change is by bringing disrepair cases back into scope, as they were pre-LASPO, and by increasing the costs available.
Other factors in my decision to step back included: the added pressure of managing clients’ unrealistic expectations alongside the legal aspects of their cases; the onerous bureaucracy that all legal aid providers are required to navigate; and financial targets that are unattainable at legal aid rates. These are all things I could no longer continue to deal with.
I genuinely do not feel that the LAA is concerned about legal aid practitioners’ well-being. The amount of administration that is required for a file, alongside the actual legal work, would have an impact on anyone’s mental state.
I reached my limit and with a heavy heart I decided to take a break from social welfare law and legal aid. I will still campaign for changes to legal aid rates and reductions in bureaucracy, and against the government for its failure to ensure that more people can gain access to justice.
Having left, do I miss the work? Yes. Do I miss the continued late nights and levels of stress and feeling overwhelmed? No. The way to combat this is simple: more legal aid providers and better rates of pay.
I salute you all, my legal aid warriors.