2012 annual report shows busy year as thousands received legal help

15 July 2013

Legal rights group FLAC says its annual report for 2012 shows there is not just a fundamental need in Irish society for accessible legal information and advice for individuals, but also for fairer systems that allow people to access their rights across a wide range of issues.

According to FLAC’s Director General Noeline Blackwell, “2012 was a milestone year for FLAC where after years of campaigning to reform personal debt law, we finally saw the passage of personal insolvency legislation, its many flaws notwithstanding.”

“Across all of our work, we continued to seek greater consistency and fairness in the basic systems that allow people to access their rights – whether in social welfare, in legal structures and services, in consumer credit or in personal debt law,” she commented.

“In 2012, FLAC was proud of the fact that we helped thousands of people one-to-one through our advice and information services. From those contacts and our work with other organisations, we know that people are worried sick and afraid about basic issues. They do not see the law as protecting them despite its central role in their lives. We fed that knowledge into our proposals for law reform in structures that can create a more equal and fairer society.”

FLAC’s statistics, showing 25,450 people accessing its phone line and centres in 2012, indicate that family issues, employment problems and money worries continue to dominate the agenda, constituting about half of all of its enquiries nationally. However, some areas of law have seen increased queries, such as housing/landlord & tenant law. The phenomenon of the ‘accidental landlord’ has been noted by FLAC – people who have had to rent out their homes to meet rising mortgage payments or invested as pension provision. They do not have the same resources as ‘professional’ landlords nor the funds to get necessary legal information and advice.

 The report recognises the work of volunteer lawyers in offering legal advice in free and confidential centres all over Ireland, in partnership with Citizens Information Centres. It also showcases the strong performance of its Public Interest Law Alliance project, which FLAC says has broken new ground in galvanising a structured pro bono culture in Ireland among lawyers and campaigning organisations alike.

“In its work, FLAC seeks to recognise and remedy where people are being excluded from accessing essential systems that they need to live their lives in dignity,” concluded Ms Blackwell. “So we will continue to campaign for reform of the social welfare appeals system, for recognition of transgender identity, for a stronger consumer voice in legal structures around personal credit and debt, and for proper, timely access to legal information and advice for people who need it.”