Author : Lee Harle
A newly established government initiative will begin offering free legal assistance to aid over 38,000 people in England and Wales who risk losing their homes. The Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service kicked in on August 1 and aims to resolve issues quickly, allowing people to keep their homes. Support through this government-backed scheme will begin when a tenant or homeowner receives a written notice, such as an email from a landlord or a letter from a mortgage provider; they will have access to free legal advice through a government-backed scheme. This assistance will extend to legal representation in court, regardless of the person's financial situation.
The legal support offered will cover various housing, debt, and welfare benefit issues, addressing the broader challenges individuals facing the risk of losing their homes may encounter. The government is allocating an additional 10 million annually to housing legal aid to support this assistance service. The Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service is expected to help tens of thousands of families each year to keep their homes, improve their financial situations, and access support to enhance their health and overall life prospects.
The government's new initiative to provide free legal advice comes when landlords have to deal with extended waiting periods to reclaim their properties due to the upcoming rental reforms. These reforms will eliminate no-fault evictions. The average time it takes for a property to be repossessed after a landlord files a claim is 21 weeks. Also, there has been a startling 42 percent increase in landlord possession claims between September and December of the previous year, with the courts processing 20,460 such claims during that period.
To address these challenges, the Ministry of Justice announced that tenants and homeowners will now have access to free legal advice as soon as they receive a written notice from a landlord or mortgage provider. They will also be offered free legal representation in court. The ministry believes this additional support at the early stages of a housing dispute will help reduce the number of cases going through the court system. Justice Minister Lord Bellamy emphasised the importance of timely legal advice for individuals who risk losing their homes. The new service will prevent more people from losing their homes by providing the necessary support and assistance to address their financial issues and resolve disputes before they escalate further.
Despite the positive intentions behind the new government-backed scheme, some experts have expressed concerns about its potential unintended consequences that could result in even larger backlogs in the system. Ben Beadle, the chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), acknowledges that it is important to ensure that tenancies are protected whenever possible. Early access to legal advice for tenants during possession claims could benefit tenants and landlords. It could prevent last-minute complications arising from tenants only receiving legal advice on the day of a court hearing. The NRLA hopes this new service will facilitate agreements between tenants and landlords to resolve disputes without resorting to costly and time-consuming court proceedings.
However, Beadle also pointed out the need for the service not to cause unnecessary delays, particularly in cases involving serious issues like anti-social behaviour or significant rent arrears. Striking a balance between protecting tenants' rights and ensuring landlords can repossess properties in legitimate circumstances is crucial. By carefully addressing these concerns, the government can ensure that the scheme effectively supports tenants and landlords, streamlining the legal process without compromising on resolving genuine disputes.
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