Evictions and repossessions surge amidst housing Legal Aid crisis
By Law News
With 42% of the population lacking access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice, there is urgent need for government intervention to reverse the nearly 50% decrease in legal aid rates since 1996
The Law Society of England and Wales has issued a stark warning as quarterly statistics from the Ministry of Justice for October to December 2023 reveal a concerning surge in evictions and repossessions. Mortgage possession claims witnessed a staggering 39% increase, while landlord possessions (evictions) rose by 14% compared to the same quarter in the previous year.
Richard Atkinson, the vice president of the Law Society, expressed deep concern about the escalating crisis, attributing it to the faltering state of the housing legal aid system. He highlighted the pressing need for accessible legal assistance for individuals who find themselves unable to afford legal help amidst rising eviction and repossession rates.
According to the latest figures, all landlord possession actions, including eviction orders, experienced an overall increase compared to the same quarter in 2022. Social landlord claims constituted 36% of all landlord possession claims, with private landlord claims accounting for 31%.
"At a time when the cost-of-living crisis and high-interest rates are pushing many into financial hardship, the rising number of evictions and repossessions remains a significant worry," remarked Richard Atkinson. "For those at risk of losing their home, access to housing legal aid becomes vital."
The Law Society's research unveiled a concerning statistic: 25.3 million people, constituting 42% of the population, lack access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice. This alarming trend is exacerbated by a nearly 50% decrease in legal aid rates since 1996, rendering many firms unable to afford offering crucial legal services.
Atkinson pointed out the consequences of this dire situation, stating, "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, placing additional pressure on the courts and exacerbating court delays."
The vice president of the Law Society criticized the government's failure to address and rectify the declining state of housing legal aid, emphasizing its detrimental impact on the justice system. Atkinson argued that this failure has robbed individuals facing evictions and repossessions of essential assistance that could prevent them from becoming homeless.
In a plea to the UK government, the Law Society urges immediate investment in housing legal aid to ensure that individuals have access to the legal help needed to safeguard their homes. The call for action comes as a response to a crisis that not only affects individual households but also places additional strain on the broader judicial system.