Lawyers representing council housing tenants have been accused of applying for funds to the Legal Aid Board before informing council landlords of disrepair problems in a effort to ensure they get paid.
Tameside Metropolitan Borough solicitor Jo Bezzano has complained about the practice to the Legal Aid Board, saying tenants’ lawyers are keen to go to court because they get paid irrespective of the outcome of the case.
Solicitors taking civil proceedings under the Landlord and Tenant Act have been applying for funds from the Legal Aid Board, preparing a tenant’s case, and then informing council solicitors they have 14 days to rectify the problem or face court, she said.
Bezzano complained that councils were not being warned early enough. “In some instances legal aid is being abused by solicitors to the detriment of the public purse,” she said. “We end up in litigation whether we do the repairs or not.”
The Legal Aid Board confirmed it had received the complaints and a spokesperson promised a thorough investigation of the issues raised.
Meanwhile, in Liverpool a city councillor has labelled some solicitors “morally deplorable”. “For every pound a tenant receives in compensation the solicitors claim around eight for themselves,” he said.
The accusations brought a sharp response from Housing Law Practitioners Group chair Wendy Backhouse, who says a cartel of councils is setting out to discredit solicitors taking disrepair work.
“They are not looking at the problems sitting on their own doorsteps,” said Backhouse.