Large areas of the country will be without vital legal advice to prevent eviction if the government can't get law firms to take part in its Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service, the Law Society has warned.
The scheme, which gives free legal aid advice for people facing repossession, will replace in-court work provided under the Housing Possession and Court Duty Scheme from August. However, it has failed to attract any bids in 12 areas of the UK, including Liverpool, Hull, Darlington and High Wycombe.
Law Society president Lubna Shuja (main picture) says it shows just how unviable the service has become for providers. 'As a result, some are instead choosing to leave the legal aid market altogether,'� she explains.
'We are really concerned that this could lead to less support being available for families at risk of losing their home at a time when we are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. More and more people are struggling with rising rents, spiralling debt and mortgage costs.'�
The new advice service will also provide non-means, non-merited tested advice on housing welfare benefits and debt when a landlord or mortgage lender threatens possession proceedings.
The Law Society believes 24.4 million people (41%) do not have access to a housing legal aid provider and is calling on the government to provide an immediate injection of funding into the system to prevent it from collapse. It reports that between July and September 2022 there were 21,012 landlord repossession actions, up 106% on the same period in 2021.
The solicitors' professional body has previously warned that spending cuts in the justice system are hitting possession hearings and impacting homelessness help following the Chancellor's autumn statement which effectively reduced its budget.