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Government denies existence of housing ‘advice deserts’

Labour this week called on ministers to restore legal aid for housing as part of its review of the 2012 legal aid cuts. The Labour MP Ruth Cadbury secured the Westminster Hall debate. ‘Everyone should have the right to a safe and decent home,’  she said. ‘So I ask the government to take the opportunity presented by the review of LASPO announced last October to recommend returning to the legal aid scheme the ability to obtain legal advice for housing matters.

As a result of LASPO there had been a 58% fall in legal help for housing cases, the MP for Brentford and Isleworth said. ‘The number has gone from just over 85,000 per annum to just over 35,500 per annum,’ continued Cadbury. The cuts had also precipitated ‘a critical decline’ in the number of housing providers ‘from 646 in the year before LASPO to 427’.

She flagged up Law Society research which found in July 2016 that one third of legal aid areas had just one solicitor providing specialised housing advice through legal aid. ‘Areas such as Surrey, Shropshire and Suffolk had no legal aid provider specialising in housing. That is shocking.’ Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts pointed out that north-west Wales only had one provider of housing legal aid ‘for a population of more than 300,000 people’.

The justice minister Lucy Frazer dismissed talks of widespread advice deserts, insisting that the Legal Aid Agency monitored ‘market capability to ensure that there is adequate provision around the country’. ‘Of the 134 housing and debt procurement areas for legal aid across England and Wales, all but one currently have provision,’ she said.

Frazer pointed out that LAA had recently re-tendered new civil contracts. ‘I am pleased to say that the Legal Aid Agency received tenders from more than 1,700 organisations wishing to deliver face-to-face civil legal aid work. Those organisations submitted over 4,300 individual bids.’ As Frazer agreed that it was ‘important that we have early legal help’. ‘Last year, we spent nearly £100 million on early legal advice across all categories, including housing,’ she said.

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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