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Data released by the Ministry of Justice reveals that government spending on legal aid help has more than halved since the first cuts to housing disrepair legal aid in 2013. Cuts to funding has drastically limited tenant’s access to housing disrepair legal aid. As a result, tenants have been left trapped in dangerous living conditions that risk both their physical health and mental welfare.
Figures for Housing Disrepair Legal Aid Dropped
In June 2023 the Ministry of Justice provided figures in a parliamentary written response. Figures show that the spending for housing legal aid fell from £43,958,966 in 2012-13 to £20,361,111 in 2021-22. Additionally, spending for disrepair cases dropped from £3,932,667 in 2012-13 to £1,158,933 in 2021-22.
Reduction of What Housing Disrepair Legal Aid Covers
The Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act restricted those eligible for legal aid. Instead, only tenants facing a significant threat to health or safety could access Legal Aid. Additionally, claims related to damages arising from disrepair were excluded from what Legal Aid covered.
The recent figures align with the rise in social housing disrepair issues. Since 2013 there has been a steep rise in housing disrepair claims. This is because with tenants unable to access Legal Aid to make a claim against their social housing landlords, many landlords have let the housing fall into disrepair without consequence to themselves. Simon Mullings, co-chair of the Housing Law Practitioners Association, said: ‘The changes to legal aid brought about by LASPO have drastically curtailed tenants’ access to the law and their rights and the housing stock of England and Wales is poorer as a result, as well as ordinary peoples’ lives. We have seen the tragic human cost of poor housing conditions.’
A Call For Legal Aid to Be Restored
Rosaleen Kilbane, a founding partner of Birmingham-based The Community Law Partnership, states legal aid for housing disrepair pre-LASPO was like an interest-free loan: ‘If you lost it was written off, but if you won you paid it back – but you paid it back out of the costs you got from the landlord.’
Solicitors are stating that there no reason why legal aid for housing disrepair cannot be fully restored. As the scheme was ‘cost neutral’ for the government, they have ‘nothing financially to lose’. Many are urging that the government has the power to make a huge positive difference in the lives of social housing tenants.
A spokesperson for the ministry said: ‘Last year we invested £813m to make sure civil legal aid gets to those who need it most. On top of this, we’re investing an additional £10m each year to support people facing possession proceedings and are reviewing the sector to ensure the system is sustainable well into the future.’
Government’s Online Tool
The Department of Levelling up has launched their housing disrepair online tool. So far 34,439 people have used this tool. It provides a ‘guided pathway’ helping tenants to identifying the issues and understand their rights, responsibilities and next steps.Get in touch