The Legal Aid Board's approach to housing repair claims is "fundamentally misconceived" and contrary to the Government's wishes, says the Housing Law Practitioners Association (HPLA).
The Legal Aid Board's new Funding Code appears to accept the local authorities' claim that money spent on legal costs means less money will be spent on other areas of housing, as reported in The Lawyer last week.
HLPA Chairman Wendy Backhouse says that the LAB's new Funding Code "makes it as difficult as possible to bring repair cases".
It also advocates allowing landlords "a reasonable opportunity" to put problems right.
The Funding Code's author, Colin Stutt says: "Repair cases are a high priority where there is serious disrepair. There is a danger, however, that lawyers are becoming involved too early, identifying alleged problems and generating more work than necessary. Where people have problems, court action should be the last resort not the first."
Backhouse says that the half a dozen or so lawyers who aggressively tout for business from tenants could be controlled under existing LAB rules and adds: "By the time tenants come to us they have complained for months and are at the end of their tethers. If they come to a solicitor, we should be able to use the law to get repairs done. We shouldn't have to give the local authorities months more to go round and inspect the damage."
She says that the Government has indicated through the Woolf reforms that claims over #1,000 are serious and there was no need for the Legal Aid Board to consult and come up with another seriousness threshold.
She adds that the code is fundamentally misconceived, and suggests that actions are brought just to make landlords do the work.
"There seems to be nothing there for compensation claims for damage caused," she says.
Both Backhouse and Stutt, however, agree that clear pre-action protocols would help.
The Funding Code suggests that, among other things, aid should not be available if damages would not be much higher than costs.