Thousands of families evicted from homes because they can’t afford lawyers
Thousands of people are being made homeless every year because they cannot find lawyers to help them resist eviction, according to the charities Legal Action Group (LAG) and Shelter. Even though legal aid is available to help anyone in danger of losing their home, there has been an 18 per cent decline in the number of challenges brought, the charities say.
The figures reinforce findings by The Law Society that there are “advice deserts” where there are fewer lawyers capable of dealing with legal aid housing cases.
Last year, 42,728 households in rented accommodation were forcibly removed, according to Ministry of Justice figures. Cuts to other forms of housing legal aid introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012, bureaucratic obstructions and poor hourly rates have progressively driven most lawyers specialising in housing out of the market, leaving few practitioners.
John Gallagher, principal solicitor at the homelessness charity Shelter, said there was a large amount of “unmet need” with claimants who are technically “in scope” – entitled to receive legal aid – but who cannot find specialist lawyers to help them with their cases. Thousands of people in such a situation are probably losing their homes every year, he said.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors across England and Wales, has campaigned to raise awareness of the advice deserts. Earlier this summer Catherine Dixon, the organisation’s chief executive, warned: “Advice on housing is vital for people who are facing eviction, the homeless and those renting a property in serious disrepair. Early legal advice on housing matters can make the difference between a family being made homeless or not.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We have a world-leading legal system, and last year spent more than £1.5 billion on legal aid. We must ensure legal aid is sustainable and fair - both for those who need it and the taxpayer who pays for it. That is why we have made sure support remains available to the most vulnerable and in the most serious cases.
“We have committed to carrying out a post-implementation review of the civil legal aid changes and an announcement on this will be made in due course.”