The Law Society has called for an urgent cash injection for housing legal aid after new data showed an alarming rise in the number of possession actions.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice for October to December show that mortgage claims, orders and warrants, and landlord possession actions, have all increased.
Compared to the same quarter in 2022, mortgage possession claims have risen by 39% and orders by 9%. Landlord possession claims have risen by 14% and orders by 12%.
The ministry’s statisticians say mortgage possession claims have continued a gradual upward trend and sit at around 65% of what they were in 2019, while landlord claims have increased at a faster pace and now make up around 85% of the 2019 baseline.
Separate data published by UK Finance yesterday shows the number of homeowner mortgages in arrears rose by 7% between October and December compared to the previous quarter, while buy-to-let mortgages in arrears jumped 18%. UK Finance said cost-of-living pressures and higher interest rates were driving the increase.
Law Society vice president Richard Atkinson said: ‘With the cost-of-living crisis and high interest rates, many are struggling with rent and mortgage payments. For those at risk of losing their home, access to housing legal aid becomes vital.’
However, Society research has found that four in 10 people do not have a local legal aid provider for housing advice. The National Audit Office, which today criticised the government’s management of legal aid, says the proportion of the population living within 10km of a housing legal aid provider for issues such as eviction proceedings has fallen from 73% in 2013-14 – when LASPO came into force - to 64% a decade later. Civil legal aid fees are now roughly half what they were 28 years ago.
Atkinson said: ‘This means that those on low incomes cannot receive the advice they are legally entitled to. Furthermore, those who are unable to access legal aid will be forced to represent themselves, which will place additional pressure on the courts and exacerbate court delays.
‘The government’s failure to increase housing legal aid has weakened the justice system and robbed those who face evictions and repossessions of assistance which may enable them to avoid becoming homeless. We urge the government to immediately invest in housing legal aid to ensure that people are able to access the legal help needed to stay in their homes.’
Housing is one of 11 contracted categories of law covered by the government’s major civil legal aid review. However, final policy decisions will not emerge until later this year.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: 'We invest £10m a year of funding into housing legal aid through the Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service to give people the best chance of keeping their home when they fall into difficult financial times. It’s too early to see the full impact of this new service and we are also conducting a review of the civil legal aid sector to ensure the system is sustainable well into the future.'
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