Adequate housing is one of the most important and vital aspects of people’s lives. It seems to have become more and more difficult to secure suitable accommodation with people not being able to afford to buy or put down a deposit, rental prices increasing and lack of social housing.
The threat of losing your home often results in extreme stress and anxiety with the worry of ending up on the streets. It is apparent that many people are not able to access legal services which could help them save their home. When facing eviction, legal advice is crucial, especially for vulnerable people who are unable to represent themselves. The law on housing is often complex and is set out in various pieces of legislation, old and new, and so specialist advice is extremely important.
It is no secret that over the last few years legal aid has been cut in many areas restricting people’s access to justice. Legal aid for housing matters has been reduced in scope, however it is still available for assistance and often representation in relation to the following areas: possession proceedings (eviction), anti-social behaviour injunction proceedings, unlawful eviction, harassment in the home, some housing disrepair and challenging local authority decisions on homelessness and allocations.
With continuous reductions in legal aid fees, offering legal aid services is not appealing for law firms who must keep their businesses running. There are now only a limited amount of firms who hold legal aid contracts for housing. The Law Society’s legal aid deserts campaign highlights that “almost one third of legal aid areas have just one and – in some cases – no solicitors who specialise in housing and whose advice is available through legal aid”. The Law Society are urging the government to urgently commission an independent review into the sustainability of the civil legal aid system.
Here at Shentons we do hold a legal aid contract for housing matters. We are one of only four firms in Hampshire and the only firm in the Winchester area to offer legal aid for housing services. We offer specialist housing advice and our staff are also experienced in assisting vulnerable clients, to include people struggling with disability, drug/alcohol and mental health issues.
We recently helped a client keep his accommodation after he was served with a Notice to end his Licence due to allegations of anti-social behaviour. Licensees have very little protection from eviction, however we spotted that the landlord had not followed their appeals procedure and had conflicting evidence in regards to the allegations. The landlord agreed to rescind the Notice.
In another matter we represented a vulnerable client in an application for an Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction. Although some of the allegations were accepted, we were able to obtain a medical report confirming that the client hadn’t taken his medication at the time of the incidents and therefore had little control over this behaviour. We negotiated with the landlord and reached an agreement to adjourn the proceedings generally. This meant that no Orders were in place against the client and he would only have to deal the proceedings again if there were any further incidents.
If you need assistance with a housing matter please do contact us for a legal aid assessment. We would mirror the Law Society’s view that “early legal advice on housing matters can make the difference between a family being made homeless or not”
by Rachael Cole