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Law Society urges government to rectify ‘legal aid deserts’

25 April 2019

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The Law Society has published figures today revealing that 184 local authorities in the UK have no publicly funded legal advice for housing.

Using an interactive map to highlight the issue, the analysis shows that a further 81 local authorities, such as Suffolk, now have just one provider.

In Cornwall, one law firm serves a population of over half a million spread over 1,300 square miles, according to the Law Society’s research.

“People facing homelessness or trying to challenge a rogue landlord increasingly can’t get the expert legal advice they desperately need,” Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said.

“More than 21 million people live in a local authority without a single housing legal aid service, leaving pensioners, families with young children, people with disabilities or on low incomes struggling to access the legal advice they are entitled to when they are at their most vulnerable.

“Anyone trying to resolve a serious housing problem is likely to need face-to-face professional advice urgently – if the nearest legal aid solicitor is in the next county they might as well be on Mars.”

The Law Society has highlighted a range of problems associated with such low provisions, including those that qualifying for legal aid being unlikely to be able to afford travel to a solicitor based too far away from them.

There are also concerns that one firm covering a large area may not have capacity to provide advice to all those who need it and may have to refuse to represent clients due to conflicts of interests.

The fees government pays for legal aid provision have not increased since 1998/99, equating to a 41% real-terms reduction, according to the Law Society. Fees were cut by a further 10% in 2011. 

“The government must ensure everyone who has a right to state-funded legal advice can actually get it when they so desperately need it. Legal rights are meaningless if people can’t enforce them,” Blacklaws said

 

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Public Legal Aid