Housing solicitors branded “ambulance chasers' by council

BIRMINGHAM housing solicitors have been accused by the local council of “ambulance chasing” after it was forced to pay out £13m in legal costs for housing disrepair cases.

The charge was levelled at the city's solicitors by the chair of Birmingham City Council's housing committee, Dennis Minnis, as he unveiled plans to borrow £34m from the private sector to improve two housing estates.

Residents at the Kingstanding and Branwood estates have recently won numerous housing disrepair cases against the council.

Last year it paid out £13m in claims and it has set aside £17m to pay for similar claims this year.

Minnis claimed unscrupulous solicitors were targeting poor tenants on run-down estates because they were able to obtain legal aid.

Attacking the practice as “the housing equivalent” of ambulance-chasing, he said: “It's a very predatory way of doing business. It's costing millions which comes out of rents – monies which then can't be spent on more urgent repairs.”

He said a flood of claims faced by the council last year had delayed 80,000 scheduled repairs on other homes.

But Gerald Kennedy, a surveyor for McGrath & Co, dismissed Minnis's claims saying the legal aid system made it extremely difficult for tenants on low incomes, many of whom had waited years for repairs to take place, to take action.

“What councils really want is to do repairs when they want. What they want is to be able to break the law,” he said.

He added that he had been involved in 20,000 housing cases during his 21-year career and he had seen no evidence to support the council's allegations.

A spokesman for Birmingham law society said the council was attempting to deflect attention from the poor state of its 90,000-strong housing stock by blaming those who protect the rights of tenants.

This is not the first time housing solicitors have clashed with local councils.

In November 1996 Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council accused solicitors of applying for legal aid on behalf of their clients before informing council landlords of disrepair problems in a bid to ensure cases went to court.