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Housing Cases: Legal Advice

Volume 658: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2019

8. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of people able to access early legal advice for housing cases. (910425)

Legal aid is available when someone is at risk of losing their home or seeking to address safety concerns that pose a serious risk of harm to the person or their family. In 2017-18, the Legal Aid Agency spent £28 million on housing matters, including £9 million on legal help for housing. We recognise that early support may well be helpful, and I have mentioned already a number of pilots and an innovation fund. We will also be piloting face-to-face advice in an area of social welfare law, which may possibly be in housing.

Labour has committed to restoring legal aid funding for early legal advice for housing, welfare benefits appeals and family law cases, helping hundreds of thousands of people. Why have the Government refused to do the same, despite evidence that to do so would actually save them money?

There is already funding available, as I have mentioned. In 2017-18, we also spent £3.6 million on the housing possession court duty scheme—in other words, on-the-day advice. The Government want to ensure that people are helped early on, but also that we provide advice in the best way possible. That is why instead of just ploughing taxpayers’ money back into traditional legal aid, we want to evaluate many different forms of provision of early legal support and see which is the best, and then we will take a decision on what support we want to give.

The Minister may well say that, but thousands of families up and down the country rely on citizens advice bureaux and law centres for help with a wide variety of problems. Even refugees rely on those centres. What is she going to do about properly funding those organisations? They cannot wait around for some Government review that might take place in the future. Will she deal with the matter urgently?

The hon. Gentleman mentioned immigration, and people can already get legal aid for asylum cases. We are committed to ensuring that people know when legal aid is available to them. We are going to advertise when it is possible and undertake a programme to ensure that people know when legal aid can be claimed. In other areas where it is currently out of scope, we want to ensure that we provide it in the best way possible. In relation to housing advice, I should also mention that people can always get advice on the telephone gateway.