Further indications of legal aid ‘advice deserts’ have emerged with news that the government is urgently trying to plug a gap in the provision of housing and debt services in the south of England.
Less than a month after inviting firms to submit an ‘expression of interest’ to deliver legal aid housing and debt services in the City of Kingston upon Hull procurement area, the Legal Aid Agency is now inviting firms to submit an ‘expression of interest’ for the Surrey procurement area.
A spokesperson for the LAA told the Gazette the agency was inviting expressions of interest for LAA-funded housing and debt advice in Surrey 'after the previous contract was terminated'.
The spokesperson said: 'In the meantime, free housing and debt advice remains available in Surrey through civil legal advice which is also funded by the LAA.'
Earlier this month the agency confirmed that advice in Suffolk and Shropshire is available from ‘neighbouring’ procurement areas; 28 procurement areas in England and Wales have a provider of legally aided advice.
The Gazette has been told of one case where reliance on sole providers created a conflict of interest.
The agency’s latest invitation is open to 2013 Standard Civil Contract holders ‘who do not need to be’ existing housing and debt providers.
The agency has said it is also interested to hear from organisations that would like to deliver the services, ‘but feel that they are not able to fully meet the presence or the supervisor requirements’ set out in the contract.
The invitation states that there will be 132 matter starts per year in housing. Firms awarded work in the procurement area will also receive four matter starts in debt per year.
The deadline for expressions of interest is midday on 12 May.