The Law Society has called for vulnerable tenants to be given access to Legal Aid when the possession hearings re-start in August, but experts that LandlordZONE has talked to warn that this laudable intention is unlikely to be delivered.
The Law Society says the lengthened stay on evictions is an important step to protect vulnerable tenants, and its president Simon Davis claims that: “When hearings recommence, it is vital that legal aid is available to tenants and that the safety of court users is ensured.”
After August 23rd, Courts will hear most possession hearings remotely until the autumn and could conduct possession hearings by phone or Skype.
Letters sent our recently by at least three county courts suggest that the lack of a duty solicitor, plus the practicalities of remote hearings, will make it hard for tenants to access any sort of advice and support, including Legal Aid.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society, tells LandlordZONE: “The Law Society considers it is vital that those facing the loss of their home have access to legal advice and representation. The Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme is a crucial part of ensuring that; we would therefore expect the duty scheme to be part of any plan to restart possession hearings.”
But housing solicitor Sue James, of Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre, believes taking away the duty solicitor will almost certainly mean more evictions.
“Clients facing possession proceedings often have welfare benefit problems which means they are on very low incomes,” she says.
“They may also lack computers to access the court remotely or to have data or credit on their phones. Remote hearings for duty possession cases are not workable.”
The housing team at Citizen’s Advice tells LandlordZONE that many of its offices are already working with their local courts to discuss what support can be put in place so defendants have access to advice beforehand, and representation if needed.
It adds: “If they have been unable to access advice, then they should ask the court about what local arrangements have been made. They could also ask the court to adjourn the case to allow more time to get advice.”
Paul Shamplina of Landlord Action adds: “Getting Legal Aid at the best of times is very difficult for tenants because they have to prove they quality and often they don’t, but until we get a clear understanding of court representation, everyone’s a bit in the dark.”