Yesterday, the Ministry of Justice announced that it will implement changes to legal aid for certain housing problems that it had consulted on last winter.
Importantly, the policies implemented will also include changes proposed by legal aid providers and the bodies representing them, such as Law Centres and the Law Centres Network.
The reforms will offer more help for people facing eviction from their homes. As soon as their landlord or mortgage lender notifies them of their intention to take possession of the property, they will be able to contact a legal aid lawyer for free legal advice, without being means tested for it. The legal advice will include help with common underlying problems like debt or benefits issues, affecting a person’s income and pushing them into rent arrears.
This change of approach toward earlier legal advice means a partial retreat from the LASPO Act of 2012, that shaped current civil legal aid. To change course, the new proposals include steps to rebuild the workforce of people providing legal aid. These include funding for training contracts for new legal aid solicitors and new remote supervision arrangements for providers who do not currently employ experienced social welfare specialists.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile at the Law Centres Network, said:
“We welcome the changes that the government will be making to the home loss prevention scheme of legal aid. This is a small but key provision that allows people to get help even at the door of the county court, where legal aid lawyers can help them pull back from the brink.
“The loss of a rented home is the most common cause of homelessness in the UK. Homelessness costs the public purse over £1bn a year. At the estimated cost of less than 1% of that, these steps are a very good deal for everyone and should be built on.
“The government has realised that it got things wrong with LASPO, even if they do not admit it publicly. We hope that this heralds the start of wider reconsideration of the sustainability of civil legal aid. We all deserve to live in a more equal society, and for that we need equitable access to justice.”
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