To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the ability of residents in the Wirral local authority area to receive local Legal Aid Housing Advice.
23 November 2020
Legal Aid services are commissioned and delivered through procurement areas, rather than local authority areas. For the housing and debt categories of law (which are contracted together), England and Wales is split into 134 procurement areas. In this instance the Wirral procurement area corresponds with Wirral Borough Council.
In the housing and debt categories, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) aims to have at least one provider in each procurement area. There are currently no legal aid housing providers in the Wirral procurement area. This has been the position since March 2020 and although contracts were recently put out to the market, the LAA received no bids in this area. The LAA will continue to take steps to place services in this area.
There are housing advice services available for residents in Wirral via Civil Legal Aid (CLA), which provides housing and debt legal advice via telephone and email. There are also five legal aid housing and debt providers delivering services through eight offices in the neighbouring procurement area of Liverpool, and it is open to residents of Wirral to access these services. Additionally, there is a Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (HPCDS) in Birkenhead Court, which provides “on-the-day” emergency advice and advocacy to anyone facing possession proceedings.
Nationally there are currently 12 procurement areas which do not have access to a face-to-face housing and debt legal aid provider. These are listed in the table below, with the corresponding local authorities. The Ministry of Justice does not hold data which would allow us to estimate what proportion of the population in England and Wales live in a local authority area in which there are no housing and debt legal aid providers.
Housing and Debt Procurement Area
Bury Metropolitan Borough Council
City of Kingston upon Hull
Hull City Council
Dorset County Council
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council
East Riding of Yorkshire
East Riding of Yorkshire Council
Leicestershire and Rutland
Leicestershire County Council Rutland County Council
East Hertfordshire District Council North Hertfordshire District Council Stevenage Borough Council Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
Shropshire Council Telford and Wrekin Council
Bath and North East Somerset Council Somerset County Council
South Tyneside Council
Wirral Borough Council
The LAA regularly monitors capacity and availability of access to services, and takes action where it identifies gaps in services or where demand is greater than the available supply. We have recently concluded a housing and debt tender and will continue to take steps to place services in these areas.
In the meantime, residents in the procurement areas that do not currently have a housing legal aid provider can contact Civil Legal Aid (CLA), which provides housing advice via telephone and email, and/or can obtain advice from a legal aid housing provider in a nearby procurement area.