Figures reveal no law firms offering publicly funded housing advice in St Albans

The Law Society described the situation as a "legal aid desert"

The Law Society described the situation as a "legal aid desert" - Credit: Archant

New figures suggest there is no law firm offering publicly funded housing advice in St Albans.

The representative body for solicitors in England and Wales, The Law Society, has highlighted governmental statistics from the Legal Aid Agency which shows there is nowhere for St Albans people to obtain housing advice in the district without shelling out a pretty penny.

This area joins more than 180 other local authority districts around the country without this service.

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: “People facing homelessness or trying to challenge a rogue landlord increasingly can’t get the expert legal advice they desperately need.

“More than 21 million people live in a local authority without a single housing legal aid service, leaving pensioners, families with young children, 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.”

Government fees for legal aid provision have not increased since 1999, equating to a 41 per cent real-terms reduction. On top of this, there was a 10 per cent cut in 2011.

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The Law Society described the situation as “legal aid desert”, naming a number of problems caused by the dearth, including the costs involved in travelling to see a solicitor.

It also highlighted that one firm cannot take on all cases, due to staffing constraints and issues surrounding a conflict of interest - for example, one professional cannot act for both a tenant and their landlord.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice 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.”

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