The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) introduced sweeping cuts to legal aid from April 2013. As a result, the social welfare law category (consisting of welfare benefits, debt, employment/discrimination, community care and housing) has experienced the largest decline in cases out of all the categories that have been funded by legal aid. For the purposes of this blog however, the focus will be on housing solely.
In terms of scope, legal help and legal aid is still available for most people in danger of losing their homes and for most homelessness cases. However, notably, it is no longer available in relation to allocation cases, which means that practitioners are unable to argue that a tenant falls within a higher band of “priority” for which to be provided with housing, for example as a result of the tenant’s disability. For disrepair, now only the most serious of cases, which are likely to have a detrimental impact upon the health of an occupier of the property, can be funded by legal aid. For allocation cases, there is a public sector equality duty that local authorities have to comply with. We have seen allegations of discrimination in these situations, which are still funded by legal aid.
There is also a problem with regards to practitioners being able to correctly identify clients who are eligible for legal aid as the rules are now more complex than they have been historically. There is a worry that practitioners are reluctant to apply for legal aid unless they are absolutely certain it will fall within the rules and risk not being paid for the work they have completed on a case to date.
Now, for the statistics. In 2009/2010, there were 153,106 housing cases funded by legal aid. In 2012/2013, the number of housing cases funded by legal aid had dropped to 100,253, therefore reducing by more than a third. The government predicted that there would be a drop in the number of housing law cases funded by legal aid as a result of the cut backs. However, the government underestimated the amount of cases by 34%.
The above being said, legal aid funding is still available for housing law cases, despite the fact that this may not have been widely marketed.
By Sonia Tse, housing law team
If you are a tenant requiring assistance with a housing matter and you are unsure whether you are eligible to receive legal aid, please do not hesitate to contact us. We’re one of the firms who still offer legal help and legal aid for such cases. We will be able to advise you as to whether or not you are eligible for assistance with your problem under the new legal aid framework, free of charge.