National housing charity Shelter is seeking to work with law firm trainees to prevent what it says is the threatened extinction of housing law as a speciality following legal aid cuts. 

Shelter was forced to close nine offices and make 100 staff - mostly specialists in housing - redundant after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act cut its legal aid income for advice in half. 

Speaking at a conference on responding to legal aid cuts at City Hall, London, yesterday, chief executive Campbell Robb said the charity was looking into partnerships with law firms that would see trainee solicitors support and work at Shelter.

However, the risk of such pro bono partnerships, Robb warned, was that they would be seen as the solution to the crisis currently faced by cuts to civil legal aid, ‘feeding the agenda that everyone can deal with their own housing problems with a little advice and assistance’.

Along with that agenda, he said, was the fear that social welfare law would be seen as a lesser branch of the law than other specialisms such as tax and commercial law.

‘Our real fear at Shelter is…that the future generation of housing lawyers are just not going to come through,’ he said. ’If housing law ceases to be regarded as a discipline in its own right, and as a career path, then we’ll have an inferior system of justice. We need to develop our own trainee solicitors and we’re trying to do that.

’People who are vulnerable, who have difficulty with the language or literacy, who struggle - as most of us would - with the Civil Procedure Rules, need more than advice. They need active assistance, they need to be represented.

‘It is of little comfort to know you have a good legal case if you’re unable to do anything about it.’

Every year 50,000 people visit Shelter’s offices, 130,000 people phone it’s helpline, and 4.5 million people visit its website to seek, in nearly all cases, legal advice.