Housing legal aid: the way forward – Law Society response
The consultation aims to improve the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (HPCDS) by:
- making the scheme more sustainable
- increasing what advice is available through the scheme
The main proposal is to provide tenants and mortgage payers with a limited amount of advice on a non-means, non-merits tested basis from the point at which they are served with a notice of possession by the court. This will be known as the Housing Loss Prevention Scheme (HLPAS).
Tenants and mortgage payers will be able to get advice on welfare benefits and debt as well as the possession proceedings.
Other proposals would change the tender process and permanently extend recent temporary changes to the HPCDS contract, to:
- increase the basic payment to HPCDS providers where no clients attend the court session
- allow providers to claim for legal help follow-up work as well as the HPCDS fee
- allow providers to tender for individual specific courts rather than on an area basis
We welcome the MoJ’s recognition that repossession cases must be seen in a more holistic context by providing advice on issues such as benefits and debt problems. Both these issues are commonly associated with rent and mortgage arrears and lead to possession proceedings.
We do have some concerns that the current proposals may not be effective, however.
Housing providers believe the limited fixed fee of £157 will not be enough to deal with the range of potentially complex issues that it’s intended to address.
Since the majority of welfare benefits and debt matters were taken out of scope under LASPO in 2013:
- there are not enough advisers in the sector to provide this advice work
- providers do not have enough resources to recruit or train advisers in these areas
We’re also concerned that the welcome – but modest – improvements to payments and the tender process will be insufficient to stem the flow of providers giving up HPCDS work and the need for regular Legal Aid Agency (LAA) re-tenders.
The HPCDS cannot be considered in isolation from wider housing legal aid provision and the consultation does not address the endemic sustainability issues in this sector, as shown by the growing number of ‘advice deserts’ in housing legal aid provision.
What this means for solicitors
Despite the positive plans to extend the scheme’s remit, we’re concerned that providers will not have enough resources to deliver the extra advice expected by the proposals.
The consultation closed on 20 January 2022 and the MoJ has published its response.
We’re prepared to engage with the MoJ in any further discussions on making the proposals work.