08:56, April 20 231 0 theguardian.com

2018-04-20 08:56:19
Labour promises to restore legal aid for housing advice

Labour has pledged to restore legal aid funding for advice in all housing cases, reversing far-reaching cuts imposed by the government five years ago.

The commitment – due to be unveiled in a speech by the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, on Friday evening – could help up to 50,000 people a year enforce their housing rights.

The move comes as the Ministry of Justice concedes that its review of the widely criticised Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) could slip into next year.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, concern has grown about the problems faced by tenants in obtaining justice when pursuing concerns over housing safety.

Burgon will tell a meeting at the University of Law in Manchester: “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.”

At the last election, Labour promised to restore legal aid funding for early advice in family law cases, to help victims of domestic abuse and those facing separation and divorce.

Laspo removed access to legal aid for hundreds of thousands of claimants across large areas of civil law. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a supporter of legal aid.

Cuts to criminal legal aid have triggered industrial action by barristers, who are now refusing to accept publicly funded work in protest against years of cuts to their fees. The less-than-glamorous issue of legal aid funding appears to be slowly moving up the political agenda.

The number of legal advice cases has plummeted by almost three-quarters, from 573,739 in April 2013 to 147,284 at present, according to Labour. Areas affected 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 that 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.

A Citizens Advice study has estimated that every pound of legal aid spent on housing advice could potentially save the state £2.34.

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