Over 28,000 people received legal help in 2014
6 July 2015
Minister for Justice & Equality Frances Fitzgerald today launched the Annual Report for 2014 of legal rights group FLAC. Launching the report and a guide to the law on neighbour disputes , she said “I want to commend FLAC on another successful year. FLAC continues to play an important role in the justice system. Ensuring equal opportunity and access to justice is essential to fostering equality and building an inclusive society.”
Pointing to the work done by the organisation in 2014, FLAC chairman Peter Ward SC noted that “access to justice is a fundamental part of any democracy. FLAC’s analysis on consumer credit and debt during the year shows that there are still serious problems for those who need to use the law to achieve a fair outcome or to ensure that there is respect for their rights. Lack of money, lack of knowledge continues to lead to inequality. That is in addition to people who need help just understanding the general law as it affects them. Through FLAC and its partner services, we were able to help almost 28,400 people in 2014.”
The organisation said that the number of people requiring legal help from its telephone information line was up just over 10% on last year to 15,005. Commented Director General Noeline Blackwell: “You might say FLAC’s legal information helpline is a social thermometer for issues affecting people in Ireland and 2014 has been our busiest year yet. For the second year running, our phone-line saw a big increase in calls on housing problems, including landlord and tenant queries, up 81.7% over 2013. This is on top of an 83% increase over 2012. This makes housing the second largest area of enquiry on our phone-line, with family law and credit & debt law problems the other top areas.” She added that the organisation was also launching a new legal guide for the public on Anti-Social Behaviour and noise in neighbourhoods because this was a regular topic on the phone-line.
Of 81 locally based free legal advice centres, maintained by volunteer lawyers and run in conjunction with Citizens Information Centres, 70 participated in FLAC’s data collection programme in 2014. This gave the organisation data on 13,384 cases across 20 counties. In the centres, the main issue continued to be family law enquiries but housing queries were also up, at 6.4% of overall visits.
Speaking at the launch, FLAC Senior Policy Analyst Paul Joyce noted that while changes announced in May - to apparently allow the courts to review unreasonable refusals by creditors of insolvency arrangements - are welcome, they need to be enacted quickly, given the recent spate of repossession proceedings. “FLAC remains concerned that despite these reforms, many over-indebted people will still not be able to access the advice and support they need to reach a fair resolution, be that a personal insolvency practitioner or lawyer, due to lack of resources,” he stressed.
Mr Joyce also warned that Ireland needs more robust legal protections for consumers of credit and financial services. Referencing FLAC’s flagship analysis piece in 2014, Redressing the Imbalance, he said: “This report concludes that the failure to properly regulate lenders and lending at both national and EU levels was one of the principal causes of the personal debt crisis. We concluded that Ireland’s consumer credit laws remain complex, piecemeal and inaccessible to most consumers, leaving many at risk of exploitation in the future. The reliance on codes as opposed to binding legislation is a prime example. This has become manifestly obviously in relation to the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears.”
FLAC’s Annual Report 2014 also reported on what Ms Blackwell called the “matchmaking function” of its Public Interest Law Alliance. Last year, PILA matched 95 social justice organisations needing legal support with pro bono legal assistance. In a survey carried out through PILA, the organisation found that three-quarters of the 464 lawyers who responded did pro bono work, with half of those so regularly. According to Ms Blackwell, “One of the great privileges of working with FLAC is the interaction with volunteers. FLAC aims to create equal access to justice for all and does this with a wide variety of partners; in particular, we work with lawyers who volunteer their time and expertise. Their impact is enormous.”
The annual report for 2014 is available to download from the FLAC website in PDF format.
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
- We offer free, confidential basic legal information on our lo-call telephone line at 1890 350 250, and free legal advice through a nationwide network of volunteer evening advice centres (see http://www.flac.ie/gethelp for a full listing). FLAC also campaigns for legal reforms on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
- On Monday FLAC also launched its latest legal information booklet on ‘Neighbour Disputes’, kindly supported by the Civil Service Charities Fund. Some recent examples of neighbour disputes queries to the phoneline are below:
- Caller living in housing complex next to noisy neighbours, has engaged in mediation but landlord of next door property not cooperating and management company not engaging, wants to know next steps.
- Caller lives close to a gym and is being disturbed by noise coming from it; has contacted local authority and gym has allegedly been sound-proofed, but has not made a difference. Wants to know what he can do?
- Caller from rural area says neighbour’s dog is barking and disturbing him, despite him having complained to neighbour several times. Wants to know what are his right here.
- Caller’s neighbour has been calling the Gardaí to complain about noise coming from caller’s house, but Gardai agree there is no actual noise problem – neighbour is elderly and quite abusive towards caller and her family. What can she do?
Headline statistics for FLAC information services in 2014:
15,005 telephone line calls - this is up 10% over 2013, of which
- Top areas of law – family 21.4% of calls, housing/landlord & tenant 14.3%, credit & debt 8.6%, employment 6.7%
- neighbour dispute calls up 17% in 2013
- housing/landlord & tenant calls up 81.7%
- contract law calls up 39.6%
- credit and debt calls down 20.2%
13,384 queries recorded at participating legal advice centres - of which the top areas of law were family at 33.7% of calls, employment 14.2%, credit &debt 10.3%, housing/landlord & tenant 6.4%
- credit and debt down 13%
- housing/landlord & tenant up 3.9%
A further breakdown of stats by area is below. Regional data is available on request.
Overview of FLAC events in 2014:
- In March, PILA hosted a conference on public interest law that was attended by almost 400 members of the legal community, civil society, and others.
- Also in March, FLAC launched a major research report entitled, Redressing the Imbalance: A study of legal protections available for consumers of credit and other financial services in Ireland. The report examined protections available to those availing of credit from banks, hire purchase companies, credit unions, and other financial service providers, as well as redress mechanisms for consumers unhappy with the conduct of their providers.
- FLAC continued to monitor the implementation of the Personal Insolvency Act of 2012 throughout the year, including a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform on the resolution process for mortgage arrears in April.
- FLAC continued its administrative and communications support to the Child Care Law Reporting Project throughout the year.
- In May the Financial Services Ombudsman issued a fresh decision in favour of FLAC client David O’Brien. Mr O’Brien had appealed an FSO finding against him in October 2011 on the termination of his car Hire Purchase agreement and relying on an earlier High Court case supported by FLAC, Gabriel vs FSO.
- In September Our Voice, Our Rights: a parallel report in response to Ireland’s Third Report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was coordinated by FLAC and submitted to the UN. It contained contributions from more than 50 individuals and organizations and formed the basis for Irish civil society reporting to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ahead of the state’s examination in June 2015.
- In October, civil society reactions to Budget 2015 were collected through a survey circulated by FLAC and fed into the well-attended Fairer Budget, Fairer Society: Analysis of Budget 2015 from Irish civil society eventwhich took place on 16 October.
- In November, PILA initiated Ireland’s first ever survey of pro bono work among the legal profession in Ireland.
- The landmark Lydia Foy case continued with support from FLAC, and progress was made as terms of settlement were announced and the long awaited Gender Recognition Bill published in December.