PMQs: Corbyn and May clash over slashed legal aid

Corbyn tells the Commons Labour is committed to restoring legal aid for housing cases.

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Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have clashed over slashed legal aid during PMQs – with Corbyn quoting a leaseholder being threatened with eviction who cannot get legal aid and working “until 2am every night” collecting evidence.

May maintained a quarter of the Ministry of Justice’s budget is spent on legal aid, with the government reviewing legal aid schemes.

Corbyn told the Commons Labour is committed to restoring legal aid for housing, May turning the argument to anti-semitism.

As reported by 24housing, the decimation of legal aid services is seen as having serious implications for the function of any future Housing Court.

Analysis released in December last year revealed up to a million people now live in areas with no legal aid provision for housing, with a further 15 million having access to only one provider.

Some 15 law centres – often filling gaps in legal aid provision – have shut since the coalition government introduced the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which withdrew aid from areas of law, including housing, family, welfare, and debt.

There are concerns across the housing and legal sectors as to how cases could be brought by tenants without access to legal aid – given the acknowledged complexity of such cases.

In looking to a housing court, government concedes to the present process of resolving housing disputes as “confusing and acting as a deterrent” to those seeking justice.

Other factors include reducing the need for multiple hearings in different courts, transferring certain types of housing cases between the courts and tribunal or vice-versa to ensure cases are resolved quickly, and issuing new guidance to help tenants and landlords navigate their way through the legal system.

Having taken the views of members practising housing law, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has warned Housing Court will fail unless it is adequately resourced with specialist judges, staff, and locations to ensure access to justice – and a need for MHCLG to cut the ever-higher level of court fees or risk deterring “good and important cases”.

Challenged over more incentives for legal aid lawyers to offer housing advice ahead of PRS reform, an MHCLG minister told the House of Lords many such cases “will not to go to law” in future.

During a debate on Section 21 – that government is proposing to abolish subject to consultation – Labour’s Lord Beecham urged the MHCLG’s Lord Bourne to consult with the Ministry of Justice to ensure such incentives.

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