Response: MOJ Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (Commissioning Sustainable Services)
Shelter response to MoJ consultation on Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes March 2017
Shelter is already concerned about the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) on access to justice in homelessness and housing cases. There is a significant risk that these proposals could compound this impact still further, leading to more families being at risk of losing their homes or unable to tackle poor housing conditions.
The proposal as it stands is difficult to comment on because there is so little data. To make sense of the proposals one needs data for the individual courts. In addition, there is very little, if any, evidence provided about underlying assumptions. For example:
the costs reasons for the proposals such as how many HPCDS providers have pulled out and from where
how the proposed changes might be cost neutral, except by driving down the price, particularly where there may be an increase in travel costs depending on the location of the provider within a cluster of courts some considerable distance from each other
how one provider taking on an additional court or two where they have a considerable distance to travel to see only a few clients is going to be compensated by running the duty scheme at a busier court closer to their office.
There is a real risk to access to justice. A more effective service can be provided to a client if the court duty provider is able to carry out any follow up work on the possession claim. This link is at risk of being broken when HPCDSs are combined, since distance may make it significantly more difficult for the court duty provider to do the follow up work. (and clients may not be able to get to see them because they are too far away). Conversely, giving the contract to a non-local provider where before there was a local one could threaten the viability of that local provider and add to the advice desert problem rather than reduce it.
Increasing the risk of post code access to justice. This has already been compounded by the court closures. There are unintended consequences, namely, of making some providers financially non-viable because they lose their local duty scheme.
Cost is a factor but should not be determinative, as quality is likely to suffer. Skilled solicitors/advisers are a prerequisite of an adequate court duty scheme. Competitive tendering could result, in the cities at least, in a race to the bottom and a loss of quality.