Lack of solicitors offering housing advice affects many areas
FAMILIES across England and Wales are being denied vital housing advice by crippling cuts to legal aid, solicitors revealed yesterday.
The Law Society, the representative body for solicitors, warned that “legal aid deserts” in housing advice have been created by government cuts.
Analysis of official figures has shown that almost a third of legal aid areas have either just one legal aid solicitor specialising in housing advice or none at all.
Rural areas including Cornwall, Somerset and central Wales are among those with poor provision, while Surrey, Shropshire and Suffolk have no housing advice provider at all.
This has left many vulnerable families with nowhere to turn for support and guidance, the association said.
Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “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.“People who require legal aid advice for housing issues often need it urgently.
“Families are unable to access justice because they cannot afford to travel to see the one provider in their area who may be located long distances from where they live.”
Ms Dixon also warned that cuts to legal aid could cost the taxpayer more in the long run.
“The impact of homelessness on individuals can be huge, but it also hits the public purse,” she said. “And, just as legal advice deserts have opened up, the demand for housing has escalated.”
She called on the government to urgently commission an independent review of legal aid.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: “In 2012, when the Tory-led government slashed legal aid, it offered the concession of a review on the impact.
“The Law Society’s Legal Aid Deserts campaign shows that legal assistance has disappeared in much of the country.
“The Tories’ approach has robbed individuals, families and communities of access to justice, leading to consequences such as homelessness and poor health.
“The government must now launch this promised review into legal aid cuts and their impact without further delay.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Legal aid housing advice is available throughout England and Wales, either face-to-face or from the civil legal advice helpline.
“Last year, we spent in excess of £1.5 billion on legal aid and have made sure support remains available in the most serious cases, including where people are facing losing their home.”