Lawyers warn lack of housing legal aid services leaves vulnerable households under threat

Lack of legal aid could vulnerable households, lawyers have warned.
Lack of legal aid could vulnerable households, lawyers have warned.

Low-income households in Bassetlaw could struggle when facing rogue landlords or homelessness due to a lack of state-funded legal aid, new research reveals.

The Law Society says that housing advice deserts across the country are 'catastrophic', and that the situation risks rendering vulnerable households' legal rights meaningless.

New data from the society shows that households in Bassetlaw have no state-funded face-to-face advice service for housing issues.

Across England and Wales, 183 of 348 local authorities have no housing advice providers, while a further 78 have just one.

Only 87 have two or more providers.

The Law Society warned that reliance on one provider in a large area can lead to problems among those on low incomes, who might not be able to afford to travel far to see a solicitor.

Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society, said: "More than 21 million people live in a local authority without a single housing legal aid service, leaving pensioners, families with young children and people with disabilities or on low incomes struggling to access the legal advice they are entitled to when they are at their most vulnerable.

"Anyone trying to resolve a serious housing problem is likely to need face-to-face professional advice urgently – if the nearest legal aid solicitor is in the next county they might as well be on Mars.

"The Government must ensure everyone who has a right to state-funded legal advice can actually get it when they so desperately need it.

"Legal rights are meaningless if people can’t enforce them."

The Law Society also warned that housing legal aid providers cannot represent renters if they are already working for their landlords, which could be a hurdle for some tenants in areas with a lack of housing advisors.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "It is misleading to compare legal aid services to local authority areas as that is not how provision is set – people can be covered by nearby providers or over the telephone if they are unable to travel.

"There are more offices offering housing advice services now than under the previous contract and we are launching a series of pilots offering support to people with social welfare problems like housing, including expansion of early legal advice."