Post by Colin Henderson on Aug 1, 2016 10:20:49 GMT
The Law Society have produced a striking graphic on the current lack of housing providers outside of London.
But I actually think the way it's set out is misleading - it's not broken down by counties as the map implies. For example North Lancs is colour coded by The Law Society as having 4-5 providers. There isn't - the real map is here and even that is out of date:
Only my CAB has a contract, accessible at two offices. The next nearest provider is a branch of Keogh's in Preston and Shelter's office in Blackburn. And I happen to know neither of the two private solicitors listed as housing providers in Blackpool are taking on legal aid work. So north of Greater Manchester there are actually only three providers. = TLS's interactive map is on this link
The ‘legal aid deserts heat map’ shows 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 – the darker the colour, the fewer providers there are locally.
Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said early legal advice on housing matters could make the difference between a family being made homeless or not. She said: ‘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.’
Highlighting other problems that can arise, the Society said a single provider in a large area may not have the capacity to provide advice to all those who need it. Having a single provider could also lead to a conflict of interest, as the Gazette reported in April . A conflict of interest could also arise if the firm has been acting for the landlord on another issue, such as a family matter, which means they would not be able to act for the tenant, the Society said.
Dixon urged the government to urgently commission an independent review into the sustainability of the civil legal aid system. The review should also look at legal aid contracting arrangements, the Society added, calling for second providers to be commissioned in areas that currently have either one or none."
Readers may remember that in 2014 I worked with Melanie Newman at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on this subject - you can read our findings here:
Since then my personal experience is that a lot fewer housing clients are presenting either in agencies or at court - most assume nothing can be done to help. Those who do get referred are far more challenged these days, usually with combinations of serious mental illness, addictions and offending that make working with them as litigation clients under the strictures of legal aid processes almost impossible.
An example: last week I received a referral of a troubled young lad unlawfully evicted by private landlord. Not unusually for my patch the police had assisted the landlord in breaking the law. As is typical now the client didn't attend appointment - I've just found out he's been imprisoned for reasons we probably will never know. Another example - I often lose touch with clients when they get depressed, go on benders, etc. Often they will avoid my calls and texts, so I now have to chase them from numbers which aren't known to them so they pick up and I can talk them in to meeting to give a statement/submit a form/turn up at court. The sad truth that agencies understandably don't publicise is that the effects of years of consciously engineered poverty on our clients often mean our attempts to work with them get abandoned without solid outcomes as there are few functional mental health or community care services left to assist.
So I'm not surprised the providers are dwindling along with the case numbers.
Post by Colin Henderson on Dec 23, 2016 11:08:26 GMT
No-one who clings on to working in civil legal aid will be surprised that more advice deserts are opening up as providers give up on increasingly stressful and unviable contracts (often policed by oppositional contract managers handing out contract notices and threatening termination).
Those solicitors firms and advice organisations who give up never publicise the fact, but you can tell where they once were from the "expressions of interest" which the LAA is required to invite for possible replacements via its website.
Shropshire and Suffolk have had no local provider for ages. Then earlier this year invites went out for Hull (March) and then Surrey (April). Cambridgeshire was added to the list in October.
Now this month the latest organisations to give up their housing contracts have meant invites for the Warrington/Halton and Calderdale areas, I wonder who will drop out next?
And to take stock of the wilderness that was once civil legal aid provision Legal Action Group have recently produced an overview report full of numbers which chart the decline. James Sandbach and Lucy Logan Green describe civil legal aid provision as in 'free-fall':
I agree, but to explain why this won't change (at least under this government) you need to look at just one number. Despite the recent extension of some protections for assured shorthold tenants and the theoretical existence of duty court possession schemes I read recently that the number of unopposed private possession orders is at an all time high.
Three years after LASPO private landlords have never had it so easy. Job done.