MoJ Announces Greater Legal Support for Those Facing Eviction or Repossession
Following a consultation launched by the government on 25 November 2021, homeowners at risk of repossession are set to benefit from greater legal support. The consultation outlines a new approach to the delivery of legal aid for the housing possession proceedings and thus will improve access to legal aid for anyone at risk of losing their home. The consultation is set to run for 8 weeks and will follow stakeholder engagement on how to improve the current scheme.
The Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (HPCDS) provides free emergency legal advice and advocacy to anyone in danger of eviction or having their property repossessed, regardless of their financial circumstances.
Reasons for the Revamp
The MoJ has consistently worked to develop a package of measures to improve the sustainability of the scheme. Notably, the Legal Aid Agency, which is sponsored by the MoJ, has repeatedly had to address gaps in provision arising due to housing practitioners quitting the scheme. This is something directly acknowledged by the government in their recent consultation paper. They allude to and highlight the need to address “the ongoing incidence of providers pulling out of contract”.
The paper adds: “Whilst continuity of service has been maintained to date, there is a risk that gaps in service provision may appear which have the potential to negatively impact on the clients who rely upon this vital service. In addition, the necessity of regularly retendering the service following the withdrawal of providers adds to the administrative burden on the LAA and does not provide value for money for the taxpayer.”
On November 25, The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) unveiled proposals to remodel the delivery of the HPCDS to become a new Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service (HLPAS), incorporating both the existing service of advice and representation at court but also early legal advice before court.
This revamp will expand the scope of legal aid so that HLPAS providers can offer early legal advice on social welfare law matters to individuals facing procession proceedings. Notably, contracts for individual courts rather than larger geographical areas will also be introduced, alongside a set attendance fee for all schemes, replacing the existing nil session payment.
The legal aid overhaul that has been proposed would cost a total of £7.4m a year; however, according to the impact assessment published alongside the consultation, the proposals would lead to a more efficient service and reduce the burden placed on the courts.
Lubna Shuja, vice-president of the Law Society, said that the availability of non-means-tested legal advice prior to court hearings would be a positive development. However, she also had reservations: “there are serious sustainability issues in legal aid housing, as proven by the extent of the legal aid housing deserts. Those facing repossession will not be able to access vital legal advice if there is no provider in their area. Considerable investment is still needed to tackle these issues”.
The consultation will be open for 8 weeks, closing on 20 January 2022. A paper summarising responses will be published within 3 months of the closing date of the consultation.
Stop the Repossession of Your Home
If you are currently facing eviction, contact us immediately so that we can help stop the repossession of your home. Our experienced team at HMS is dedicated to finding a solution to your problem. Click here to get started or call 0808 109 3559 for free advice.