Free legal advice tested to help those facing financial hardship

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  • Free early legal advice for thousands of people struggling with debt, housing and social assistance
  • Legal advice to prevent people from going into further debt and having to appear in court
  • Launch of a five-month pilot test phase in Manchester and Middlesbrough

The pilot project in Middlesbrough and Manchester extends the reach of legal aid funding to more people who previously would not have been eligible for free legal advice, to help them solve problems before they arise. become more complex or expensive.

The aim is to ensure that people have a better chance of resolving legal problems quickly, preventing them from escalating into new difficulties.

Currently, many people do not access legal advice until it is too late, leading to further problems, such as the need to appear in court, increased debt and even homelessness. The pilot project will explore whether these problems can be avoided by providing legal advice earlier.

The pilot counseling will be offered to people struggling with housing, paying bills or experiencing problems with their benefits, with no means or merit test required. To understand the difference the pilot service makes, pilot participants will either receive up to three hours of free legal advice and assistance or be referred to existing advice services.

Justice Minister Lord Bellamy KC said:

Early legal advice can be invaluable for people who find themselves in difficult and stressful situations, helping those in difficulty to avoid further debt or ending up in court.

Through this pilot project, we are paving the way for more people to receive free legal advice, at an earlier time so that their problems can be resolved before they escalate.

A legal advisor can explain issues such as council tax arrears and provide further information on housing rights and the Universal Credit application process, if needed.

Invitations to the program will be sent to people who have fallen behind in council tax payments from Manchester City Council and Middlesbrough Council. Guests will then be asked to complete a confidential survey to determine if they have a legal issue that requires assistance.

After the initial 5-month testing phase, the Department of Justice will review the evidence gathered during the evaluation and use it to inform the design of a future larger-scale pilot.

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