Loophole penalises owners who win case

Crippling legal fees in battle for homes 

By Stevie Gallacher

LEADING consumer rights expert Mike Dailly (right) has called on the Scottish Government to close a loophole that leaves those facing home repossession with crippling legal bills.

Mr Dailly, the principal solicitor of the Govan Law Centre, has asked Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to change the law to ensure all those served with repossession notices qualify for Legal Aid.

Mr Dailly argues the “gap” in the law could leave thousands of families facing poverty at a time when home repossessions are rocketing.

Legal fight

He said, “The vast majority of people served with a repossession notice face a legal fight to keep their house. 

“On the one hand you face homelessness, in which case your legal bill will be paid by the Legal Aid Board. Yet if you successfully retain your property you have to pay your lawyer’s fees and these costs can run into thousands of pounds.

“Given you’ve faced financial problems serious enough to have your home almost repossessed, how could you pay these fees?

“The law presumes because the home has been retained people can pay the bills when in reality it’s very difficult.

“I’ve spoken with the Legal Aid Board and they’re sympathetic to the situation. Their hands are tied, so what’s needed is a change in the law.

Doubled

“It’s vital this is addressed. We’re facing a recession and repossessions have already risen by 92 per cent. The number of clients served with repossession notices who have come into my practice in the last year has doubled.

“Kenny MacAskill can address this situation by altering the Scottish Legal Aid Act. It could be done within a few weeks and prevent many Scots becoming trapped in a spiral of poverty.

“I’ve been in touch with Mr MacAskill but nothing has happened so far.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said, “The Legal Aid system is not failing vulnerable Scots. Ministers have agreed increases to the income limits for civil legal aid so more than a million more Scots can become eligible from this spring. 

“That means three-quarters of Scots will be able to get free or subsidised help to protect their legal rights.

Extra £3 million

“Ministers have also announced an additional £3 million over the next two years to enhance and effectively target In-Court Advice and other services for people facing repossession or other problems such as debt. 

“Legal Aid provides help to enable people to defend actions which could otherwise result in loss of their homes. It is not always free. 

“The contributions which a small proportion of assisted persons have to pay towards the costs of the legal representation help ensure Legal Aid remains affordable. 

“If someone keeps or wins their home as part of their case they do not have to sell it to pay the amount due to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. 

“SLAB will either ask them to pay by instalments or may allow them to delay payment until they decide to sell their house at a later date. 

“We have no plans to make further changes to the rules governing financial eligibility or recovery or preservation of property.”

 

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