In January 2022, JUSTICE responded to the Ministry of Justice’s Housing Legal Aid: the way forward consultation.
The response drew upon our 2020 Solving Housing Disputes report, which set out proposals to create a more unified and accessible housing dispute system. Key to the recommendations within that report are greater coherence, access to legal aid funded advice and information, and promotion of dispute resolution, where appropriate, to bring about fair, sustainable resolutions.
Our response highlighted a number of difficulties posed by the way the existing legal aid regime operates in relation to the housing duty scheme. JUSTICE also made recommendations for how it could be improved, including advocating for the following:
- Early legal help: Ensuring that users have access to legal advice early on in their dispute e.g., at a pre-action stage, rather than once proceedings have commenced. This reflects the findings of JUSTICE’s Solving Housing Disputes report and previous research which shows that early advice has a significant impact on parties’ ability to bring their disputes to an early resolution in the context of welfare benefits, homelessness, and eviction proceedings
- Promoting the use of alternative dispute resolution at pre-action stage: Promoting the use of alternative dispute resolution at a pre-action stage. This involves expanding the definition of “legal help” under legal aid contracts for housing, to capture and remunerate, at a sustainable rate, acting and advising through pre-action ADR processes.
- Addressing the inter-related and underlying causes of housing disputes: Requesting further investment in legal aid to allow for duty scheme providers to provide advice in relation to the inter-related and underlying causes of housing disputes including debt and benefits issues.
- Removing barriers to obtaining legal advice: Ensuring that the difficulties experienced by tenants in accessing legal advice are understood and that steps are taken to overcome them. This includes removing the physical, geographic and financial barriers that prevent tenants from accessing help and support. It also involves acknowledging the psychological and emotional impact that housing disputes, especially eviction proceedings, have on a tenant’s ability to engage with the legal process. JUSTICE sets out a range of recommendations to target these barriers including ensuring that in-person housing advice is brought from the ‘doors of court’ to the ‘doorstep of the tenant’.