Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Legal aid and legal costs

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill entered the report stage in the House of Lords on 5 March, and the government suffered three defeats on the first day of debate.

The government wants save £350m by limiting the availability of legal aid. However, plans to restrict legal support for victims of domestic violence were defeated by a majority of 37.

Peers also voted to state in the legislation that people should have "access to legal services that effectively meet their needs" and the terms for appointing a Director of Legal Aid Casework were spelled out in the legislation to protect the postholder's independence.

There is only one amendment to be debated that directly relates to housing. As drafted, the Bill would rule out legal aid for benefits work, even when involved in defending possession proceedings.

Amendments 75, 76 and 77, yet to be debated, seek to ensure that, where the loss of the home is threatened due to nonpayment of the rent or mortgage, advice and casework can be provided to address an underlying benefits problem causing or contributing to the arrears. Shelter has produced a useful briefing [a big thank you to the Nearly Legal blog for highlighting this].

Ombudsman urges clarity in costs

Cost is the single most common cause of complaints from people about their lawyers, according to the Legal Ombudsman.

In a new report, Chief Legal Ombudsman and former Shelter boss Adam Sampson says the legal profession must learn the value of clearer pricing information and good customer service or risk falling behind more marketing led companies in the long run.

The report, titled “Costs and customer service in a changing legal services market” uses the stories of real people who came to the Ombudsman with complaints about costs to illustrate difficulties faced by consumers.

Since launching in 2010, 20-25% of the Ombudsman's investigations have involved issues related to cost, either where a consumer felt they had been over-charged, confused, or surprised at the costs presented to them by their lawyer.

As well as publishing a report, the Ombudsman has produced a guide for consumers, to help them ask the right sort of questions when first enquiring, and a guide for lawyers, to help them prevent complaints or resolve them quickly if a problem arises.

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