Finally, some much needed housing law advice in Suffolk

Readers of my previous blogs will know about Suffolk Law Centre, newly launched and on the journey towards our rural county no longer being an advice desert. Well I have some good news.
We left the story with us trying and failing to recruit a housing legal aid supervisor – see here. Two unsuccessful recruitment exercises with no applicants. So the question over the summer was do we invest more time and money into a potential waste of time trying for a third time?
I had been going to national events and legal conferences on access to justice for over four years to raise awareness of our lack of housing legal aid provision in our county. Our predicament had attracted national publicity (see here) and the national shortage of housing legal aid providers led the Law Society to mount a large campaign (here).
The problem is there appears to be a national shortage of  housing law legal aid supervisors, as the requirements preclude even those with many years of experience but who have not done this type of work for more than three years. My good friend Douglas Johnson clearly set out the issues  that the contractual requirements being a barrier to us providing the much needed service to a whole county (here).
We could not give up. We decided to try to recruit a caseworker and try to persuade the Legal Aid Agency to allow on a temporary basis external supervision.
With the fantastic help of the Law Centres Network and our consultant Matt Howgate of DG Legal, we identified Hackney Law Centre as the potential provider of external supervision This would cost us another £7,000 per annum on top of the caseworker but would allow us to do it. To their credit, the Legal Aid Agency was amenable to our proposals, though stressing that external supervision must be a very temporary solution as they wanted to avoid precedents leading to reduced supervision elsewhere.
So we then recruited for a housing caseworker. To our surprise and delight, Paul McManus who until recently was a housing supervising solicitor at South West London Law centre decided to apply, as did three former housing specialist solicitors who did not have the recent experience to be legal aid supervisors. After interview, Paul was appointed and two of the other candidates offered their services part time as volunteers.
After a nervous scramble for verification and wait we will start next week setting up our housing legal aid practice. One of our major reasons for setting up the law centre has been achieved and I am so happy.
The lack of housing legal aid in other counties (like Cornwall ) remain. Brent Law Centre is still advertising for a supervisor. Is it the lack of available qualified supervisors – or that the requirements for qualifying too restrictive –  given that you need them in the right places not just the right numbers? Should the Legal Aid Agency invest in ensuring the skilled staff are there – salaries are often less than, say, those paid by local authorities to their housing lawyers?
Hopefully the current review of LASPO will address these issues.

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