Vulnerable families and homeless denied vital housing advice, warns Law Society

Families in large parts of Britain are being denied vital housing advice because of “legal aid deserts” which have emerged due to Government cuts, the Law Society has warned.

Almost a third of legal aid areas have just one or no legal aid solicitors who specialise in housing advice, according to an analysis of official figures by the Law Society.

Rural areas including Cornwall, Somerset and central Wales are among those with poor provision, while Surrey, Shropshire and Suffolk have no housing provider at all.

This has left many vulnerable families without vital support and advice, the association said.

Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the Law Society, said: “Advice on housing is vital for people who are facing eviction, the homeless and those renting a property in serious disrepair.

“Early legal advice on housing matters can make the difference between a family being made homeless or not.

“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.”

She also warned that cuts to legal aid could cost the taxpayer more in the long run.

She said: “The impact of homelessness on individuals can be huge – but it also hits the public purse. And, just as legal advice deserts have opened up, the demand for housing has escalated.

“There is a serious risk the people that Parliament insisted should be able to access legal help will be unable to get the advice and representation they need.

“The Government needs to urgently commission an independent review into the sustainability of the civil legal aid system.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Legal aid housing advice is available throughout England & Wales – either face-to-face or from the civil legal advice helpline.

“Last year we spent in excess of £1.5 billion on legal aid, and have made sure support remains available in the most serious cases, including where people are facing losing their home.

“We are also taking active steps to ensure people are able to access the help they need, when they need it, including identifying new suppliers to safeguard provision.”

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