Evicted tenants to get free legal advice earlier



Tenants facing eviction in England and Wales will receive free legal advice earlier under measures proposed by the Ministry of Justice.

Current Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes (HPCDS) enable renters to receive “on the day” emergency face-to-face advice and support if they face possession proceedings in court.

However during the pandemic legal aid contracts were temporarily changed to allow affected tenants to get advice before they go to court.

The Ministry of Justice said this access to earlier advice can potentially help resolve cases before they even reach the court.

It can also help tenants resolve wider welfare issues, like housing, debt and welfare benefits, which may have caused the possession notice to have been issued in the first place.

The temporary change to legal aid contracts was deemed a success by the Ministry of Justice, so there are proposals for the alteration to be made permanent.

The advice service is delivered by solicitor firms and third sector organisations who hold contracts with the Legal Aid Agency, a branch of the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice said: “We made changes to legal aid contracts to allow defendants to seek advice from the HPCDS at this earlier stage as well as at the substantive hearing. Although volumes have been small, this has allowed us to further consider the benefits of earlier access to this advice for clients and the limitations of the current scheme in being focused on in-court proceedings and fixed to a specific hearing date.

“Many stakeholders have spoken positively of the earlier access to advice available under the temporary arrangements for hearing these cases during the pandemic. We have reflected on this and think there would be benefit in making permanent changes to the scheme to allow for earlier access to advice for those individuals facing possession proceedings, to encourage early engagement from the defendant facing proceedings, and to resolve cases as swiftly as possible.”

This change is currently in consultation, though there are proposals for it to come into force in 2022.

There are other changes, as the Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes is set to change its name Prevention Advice Service to incorporate this new focus.

The Ministry of Justice’s summary of the measures being proposed are:

a. 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.

b. Expanding the scope of legal aid so that HLPAS providers can offer early legal advice on social welfare law matters to individuals facing possession proceedings before they reach court.

c. Allowing providers to claim a HPCDS/in-court HLPAS fee in addition to a Legal Help fee for follow on work.

d. The introduction of a set attendance fee for all schemes equivalent to having seen two clients during a session.

e. Contracting for individual courts rather than larger geographic areas.

The advice service is delivered by solicitor firms and third sector organisations who hold contracts with the Legal Aid Agency, a branch of the Ministry of Justice.

The consultation process on the changes will be live until the New Year.

Similar proposals were first talked about pre-pandemic but discussions were delayed by the covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent tenant eviction ban.

 

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