Legal aid charade
September 12th 2016
Cuts to Legal Aid, that are leaving vulnerable people without access to housing justice, are leading more and more people to become homeless, a leading charity claimed last month.
The charity claim the problem is due to a Government Act passed four years ago in England and Wales, which restricts access access and reportedly saves the Government £350 million every year.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) contained a set of laws that would supposedly help British citizens who are unable to afford a lawyer. The Act also created an official ban on squatting in residential properties, meaning people caught squatting could now face jail time.
The act was heavily criticised at the time: The Legal Action Group (LAG) opinion poll in November 2012 found that housing was thought to be the second most important legal aid priority. Calls were made on a film made by London-based musician Chester P appealing for a welfare reformation and campaigners fought hard.
Regardless, the government made cuts to the amount of money given over to free legal aid in April 2013. From then new limitations to the amount of legal aid offered to those in need have been in place and is only offered when a person is being evicted, rather than provided to those who risk homelessness.
Those who don’t meet the cut for receiving legal aid have four alternate options: to pay for a private lawyer, represent themselves or, seek aid from charities or to pay for help from elsewhere.
A spokesperson from Shelter Cymru says the effect of these cuts have led to an increase in homelessness.
Catherine Dixon, chief executive of The Law Society of England and Wales has said that gaining help is “vital” for people facing eviction, homelessness or renting a property which is in a state of "serious disrepair”. "Early legal advice on housing matters can make the difference between a family being made homeless or not," she told the BBC.
In 2015, the ministry of Justice claimed to have spent over £1.5 billion on legal aid.