A COOLOCK based community law centre is hailing a ‘really positive development’ in civil legal aid eligibility following victory in their long campaign.
Community Law & Mediation say they welcome the announcement by Minister Naughton that the Housing Assistance Payment and other housing support measures – Rental Accommodation Scheme, Rent Supplement, Mortgage Interest Supplement and Rent Allowance – will, with immediate effect, be excluded from the calculation of entitlement to legal aid.
The community law centre recently took a High Court case on behalf of a client who had been excluded from accessing legal aid because her HAP payment pushed her over the financial threshold.
She had emerged from a situation of domestic violence and was a lone parent who was out of work and caring for young children.
However, she was unable to access legal aid to pursue family law reliefs because her HAP payment – which is paid directly to the landlord by the local authority as a social housing support – was assessed as income by the Legal Aid Board.
CLM says this change to the eligibility criteria is a ‘positive first step’ towards improving access to justice for those on low incomes who cannot afford to pay for a solicitor and should prove a catalyst for even greater changes.
Rose Wall, Chief Executive of Community Law & Mediation, told Northside People she is encouraging people who had previously been refused legal aid because of their housing support payment to reapply.
“The decision by the Department of Justice and the Legal Aid Board to remove HAP, Rental Accommodation Scheme, Rent Supplement, Mortgage Interest Supplement and Rent Allowance from the calculation of entitlement to legal aid will bring great relief to many people who, like our client, may be dealing with family situations, domestic violence in the home or who may be experiencing discrimination at work, but who can’t afford to pay for legal representation of their own,” she said.
“The change to the eligibility criteria is effective immediately so we are actively encouraging people who had previously been refused legal aid because of their housing support payment to reapply.
“We welcome plans by the Department of Justice to review the Civil Legal Aid Scheme later this year and hope that this moment will now be seized to undertake other urgent reforms needed to break down barriers which place access to justice beyond the reach of many.
“We would like to see a re-examination of the means test in its entirety as the existing test is overly strict and out of touch with the reality of the cost of living.
“We will also be calling for removal of the statutory limitations of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme so that people can access legal aid in all areas of law, including before the Workplace Relations Commission and the Social Welfare Appeals Office.”
Community Law & Mediation was established in Coolock in 1975 as the first independent, community-based law centre in Ireland.
They say their mission is to provide people in the local communities with expert legal, mediation, and education services they would not otherwise have access to and in doing so, to address underlying issues of injustice and exclusion.
Community Law & Mediation provides free legal advice, advocacy and mediation services. To find out more visit www.communitylawandmediation.ie or phone 01 847 7804 to book.