No truth in local authority 'easy market', say lawyers

HOUSING lawyers have fought back against press reports which accuse them of profiting from council housing funds by touting for business among dissatisfied tenants.

Lawyers were accused of forcing local authorities to spend up to 10 per cent of their housing repair budgets on litigation costs.

The article which appeared in The Times last week refers to solicitors targeting estates for an “easy market” and the emergence of a legal industry in pursuing local authorities.

Wendy Backhouse, partner at Hodge Jones & Allen and member of the Housing Law Practitioners Association (HLPA), said: “Councils should be mounting a serious campaign against the Government and shake up their mismanaged housing departments rather than blame solicitors for responding to clients' needs.”

Narinder Moss of Moss & Co, based in the London Borough of Hackney, has many clients who are dissatisfied with council accommodation.

She said: “Hackney is a prime example of an inefficient authority which wastes time and money on litigation by failing to respond to tenants' needs in the first instance and then failing to comply with the consequent court instructions.

“Tenants do not want to take their cases to the court. They approach solicitors as a last resort and we are just carrying our their requests.”

David Watkinson, a barrister at 2 Garden Court and chair of the HLPA, said solicitors were simply being blamed for councils' irresponsibility in simply diverting the issue of poor quality housing away from themselves.

Hackney's housing manager Bernard Crofton stands by his claims that some solicitors are using sharp practices to get clients, such as canvassing council estates and making promises of free legal advice.

He said: “The sentiment I expressed was not a personal or a Hackney one but on behalf of authorities up and down the country. We are saying there are better ways of ensuring repairs are done for all tenants, including those not eligible for legal aid, without them having to pay for two lawyers and two surveyors to take up the time of the courts.”

The problem of council house disrepair has become so complex that Lord Woolf has made its resolution a priority in his current inquiry into civil justice.

Helen Sage