The government has moved to plug at least one of the gaps in legal aid housing services highlighted by the Law Society last week in a shocking infographic, the Gazette has learned.
The Society’s ‘legal aid deserts map’ showed that nearly a third of legal aid areas have just one solicitor provider who specialises in housing and whose advice is available through legal aid.
Surrey, Shropshire and Suffolk have no housing provider at all.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told the Gazette that housing contracts are being offered for the Surrey procurement area after firms were invited to submit an ‘expression of interest’ in April.
Services will be in place ‘imminently’, the spokesperson said.
Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said early legal advice on housing matters could make the difference between a family being made homeless or not.
Citizens Advice has warned that some families trying to keep a roof over their head are finding that no local legal aid lawyers will take their case.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said (pictured): ‘People threatened with eviction and facing homelessness are among those who often can’t access free legal representation, even if they qualify for it.’
Research shows that nine out of 10 Citizens Advice bureaux have encountered difficulties in referring people to the specialist legal advice they need since 2013, when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act emasculated civil legal aid.
Guy said: ‘It is crucial that people who qualify for legal aid can find lawyers that can help them with housing problems, especially with more people turning to us for help after being threatened with eviction illegally.’
Guy said that in the 12 months to March 2016, 2,000 people sought Citizens Advice’s help after being threatened with illegal eviction, representing a 47% rise from the previous year.