Labour promises to restore legal aid for housing advice
Labour has announced a new policy to restore legal aid in all housing cases, reversing far-reaching cuts imposed by the coalition government in 2013. The commitment, unveiled in a speech by the shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, could help up to 50,000 people a year enforce their housing rights.
Since the Grenfell Tower disaster, concerns have been raised about the lack of access to justice for tenants seeking to address concerns about housing safety. Speaking at the University of Law in Manchester on Friday, Burgon launched the new policy, stating: ‘Everyone should have the right to a safe and decent home. But the withdrawal of legal advice in many housing cases has weakened tenants’ rights, which can only benefit rogue landlords.’
Restoring this legal aid for housing advice will help tens of thousands of people resolve their housing issues and regain their housing rights. Prevention is better than cure and this policy will help stop problems like damp, leaking roofs or faulty electrics from spiralling out of control and causing tenants even greater misery.
Introduced in 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) reduced the number of categories for which civil legal aid is available and narrowed the means-test criteria. According to Labour, since that time, the number of legal advice cases has plummeted by almost three-quarters, from 573,739 in April 2013 to 147,284. Areas most affected by the cuts include family, discrimination, welfare benefits, employment and housing.
Under LASPO’s guidelines, legal advice on housing is not available for disrepair issues unless they have become so serious that they are affecting a resident’s health. Labour estimates its housing advice pledge would cost £9m a year. In 2012-13, housing advice was provided in 85,192 cases; by 2016-17 that had fallen to 35,474.
Author: Hannah Wilson
Hannah is a paralegal at BSB Solictors and is currently completing the BPTC at University of Law in London. She is commissioning editor for the Justice Gap and tweets at @hnnhw3