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Legal Aid - Is it really gone?

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With the media’s portrayal of the cuts to Legal Aid you could be forgiven for thinking that Legal Aid no longer exists, however this is not the case.

Housing law is an area of law in which Legal Aid is still available for specific types of cases.

The Possession Court Duty scheme is run by firms of solicitors, along with other legal organisations, at County Courts and provides free housing advice, and representation, to tenants and homeowners who are attending at court for a hearing in relation to; an application that they have made to suspend a warrant of eviction; or, possession proceedings which have been brought by their landlord, or mortgage company.

However, most people who attend at court and make use of the Court Duty scheme are not aware that they would qualify for Legal Help or Legal Aid in advance of their hearing.

Legal Help and Legal Aid are both forms of funding provided and managed by the Legal Aid Agency, these types of funding are available for different types of housing law cases but the financial eligibility criteria is the same for both.

You may be financially eligible for Legal Help or Legal Aid if you receive; income support; guaranteed pension credit; income-related jobseekers allowance, universal credit or employment and support allowance; or, if your gross monthly income is below £2,657.00, your monthly disposable income is below £733.00 and you do not have capital, such as savings or investments, over £8000.00 in value. You can call or attend at our offices for a free assessment of your financial eligibility, if you are unsure about this.

Legal Aid is available for defending against a variety of housing law issues, including; possession proceedings; unlawful evictions; and, anti-social behaviour injunctions. There are a number of legal tests for whether or not Legal Aid will be available but if your home, or your liberty, is at risk in proceedings funding will be available.

So, for example, in a possession proceedings case, where a landlord was attempting to gain possession of the property due to rental arrears, Legal Aid would be available where the tenant wished to remain in the property and reach an arrangement in relation to the arrears, whether this be by repayment or offset by way of a counterclaim, please see below.

Funding  is also available for Housing cases involving a warrant of eviction or homelessness. Where tenants, or homeowners, have received a date for the bailiffs to attend at their home in order to evict them from the property then, as long as they are financially eligible, the Legal Help scheme can assist them.

The Legal Help scheme would allow a solicitor, or another legal representative, to assist a tenant in making an application to court to suspend a warrant of eviction as well as represent them at their hearing.

The Legal Help scheme is also available for homelessness cases where individuals have either attended a homelessness interview with the local authority or have otherwise been refused an interview. This kind of help can include; forcing a homelessness interview, if this has been refused; arranging for temporary accommodation while the local authority reach their decision following the homelessness interview; and, making a request for a review of a negative decision.

There is also limited public funding available for you to make a counterclaim, such as claims for disrepair in the home or harassment by your landlord of mortgage company. 

Legal Aid, and Legal Help, are, therefore, very much still available for housing law cases. It is advisable to seek help as soon as possible if you know you have a housing law issue as this will give your solicitor, or legal representative, time to take more detailed instructions from you in relation to your case and is also likely to show the court your commitment to defending the proceedings. 

By trainee solicitor, Sophie De Arez Cintra, dispute resolution team

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