Fears for low income Suffolk families over lack of legal aid for housing problems
Vulnerable, low income families in Suffolk facing issues such as rogue landlords or homelessness could struggle due to a lack of legal aid funding for housing issues, charities have warned.
The Law Society has revealed that Suffolk is one of the few entire counties which does not have any taxpayer-funded legal advice services for housing, as its five local authorities are among the 184 nationwide without provision.
The provision is organised by the Ministry of Justice, which the Law Society says has not increased fees since 1998-99 - equating to a 41% reduction in real terms.
At the beginning of the year there was one provider in Ipswich, but it is understood it was no longer viable for it to offer the service because of the low level of fees.
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws fears that: “People facing homelessness or trying to challenge a rogue landlord increasingly can’t get the expert legal advice they desperately need.”
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But the MoJ has defended its approach, with a spokesman saying: “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.”
Ms Blacklaws added: “The government must ensure everyone who has a right to state-funded legal advice can actually get it when they so desperately need it.
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“Legal rights are meaningless if people can’t enforce them.”
Halford Hewitt, chief executive for Ipswich Housing Action Group, said it was the lowest income families and vulnerable people who could struggle the most - and urged people to speak to their local council as a first port of call.
“If people want support, the Ipswich local authority are very hot on providing that with the Homelessness Reduction Act,” he said.
“Most issues I would think can be resolved by the housing team but it’s just pushing it on to the local authorities.”