Matthew Smerdon has this week sent an open letter to the Lord Chancellor, calling on him to ensure lawyers' travel expenses are funded as part of the Legal Aid Agency's ongoing tender process for housing duty work.
The letter sent to Robert Buckland QC MP says:
'As an independent foundation, it is our view that the failure to fund reasonable travel costs as part of this tender will drive providers to attempt to deliver the duty desk scheme remotely, for economic reasons. This will be a particular problem in advice deserts, where there are no locally based housing lawyers. The best available evidence shows that remote advice provision is a poor substitute for face to face help at court, and will be particularly unsuitable for vulnerable people, many more of whom will end up homeless, as a result.'
LAA is offering tenders in a number of geographic areas in an attempt to fill gaps in the housing duty scheme, which provides a lifeline to people at court in immediate danger of losing their home. Possession hearings have been suspended during the pandemic, but are due to resume on 24 August, with a flood of eviction applications expected. Despite pleas from housing charities, the agency has refused to include travel costs in the tenders.
According to LAA's own estimates, the annual cost of covering travel costs would be from £300,000-£600,000.
A copy of TLEF CEO Matthew Smerdon's letter is available here.