Back in the 1990s I rented a council flat in Hackney from the legit tenant. He’d moved in with his girlfriend in south London but wanted to hang on to the flat. Somewhat ironic as I was working as a housing officer at the time.
I missed this when it came out last month, so sorry for the slightly old news. A friend who used to work in an advice centre has drawn it to my attention.
Back in November the Government launched a consultation document Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales.
They are proposing to abolish legal aid for welfare benefits appeals and housing advice amongst others. My initial reaction was “so what?” After all, how many people actually get to the point of formal legal action against their landlord or the social? Not many, so few people will be affected.
What I was missing is the Citizens Advice Bureau and pretty much every other friendly local advice centre are funded by legal aid contracts for just this work. The CAB will be reduced to a rump service staffed by volunteers and local advice services will probably close.
Now that sucks. Part of the role of housing support work is getting people to engage with advice services in the community, so they can resolve their problems independently of a support service. And I know of local advice agencies who’ve very much been apart of their community for decades.
Maybe local councils will replace the missing legal aid funding but somehow I doubt it, given their financial constraints. Whatever way you look at it the poorest are going to take a hammering.
I’ll await better legal minds than mine but from the look of this Supreme Court Judgement today the Government can no longer recover any welfare benefit overpayments due to official error.
As long as the claimant has not misrepresented or not disclosed a material fact they are entitled to the benefits they have been awarded.
While this has long been the case in HB overpayments – although councils hated it when you flagged it up – I don’t think there’s been a case applied to wider welfare benefits. If I was in charge of the tax credit system I’d be sweating it.