25,164 received legal information and advice in 2018
2 October 2019
- Top queries: Family law, employment law, wills/probate and housing
- 108 casefiles: housing, discrimination and social welfare
- Call for root and branch review of the 40-year-old legal aid scheme, means test and allowances and areas of law covered and
- Major investment in the Legal Aid Board to deal with increased demand in mortgage arrears repossession hearings
- FLAC voices concerns about;
- The use of strict confidentiality clauses in the settlement of proceedings against the State.
- The delay in hearing social welfare appeals
- Garda vetting in the allocation of local authority housing
- FLAC calls for all court forms and procedures to be accessible, precise, clear and reader-friendly in plain English.
A total of 25,164 people received basic legal information or advice from FLAC’s telephone information and referral line and from volunteer lawyers at legal advice clinics. These figures were announced in FLAC’s 2018 Annual Report, launched today by Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Minister Flanagan said
“FLAC is such an important organisation, which helps so many people, and I am very pleased to be launching its Annual Report for 2018 as it marks its 50th year in existence.”
There were 11,486 calls to FLAC’s telephone information line in 2018 and the main queries related to, family law (24.2%), employment (10.7 %) and housing (7.7%). 13,678 individuals received legal advice from volunteer lawyers at clinics run in conjunction with the Citizens Information Service at 71 locations nationwide. Family law (34.1%), employment law (15.6%) and wills/probate (9.6%) were the most common legal queries.
115 social justice organisations received legal assistance through FLAC’s public interest law project PILA, from private practitioners acting pro bono.
FLAC as an independent Law Centre continues to take on cases in the public interest, cases, which may have an impact beyond the individual. In 2018, FLAC had 108 casefiles, the most prevalent issues were housing/landlord and tenant (30 %), discrimination (22.4%) and social welfare (18.7%).
- One of these cases concerned an unauthorised eviction carried out by a landlord against a couple and their 3 children who became homeless on foot of the illegal eviction. FLAC secured one of the highest awards of compensation given by the Residential Tenancies Board when the landlord was ordered to pay €13,766,15.
Discrimination in the provision of services
- Five equal status claims were settled on a confidential basis with clients receiving a total of 50,000 including
- Two people with HIV who received financial compensation in the settlement of two discrimination claims against health service providers
Two employment discrimination claims were settled
- A person with a hearing disability who was refused employment on health and safety grounds, settled an employment discrimination claim with the payment of compensation
- A Roma woman who was refused a job in a hotel because she was wearing a traditional Roma skirt, settled an employment discrimination claim with the payment of compensation.
Issues arising from the casework
Eilis Barry, FLAC Chief Executive highlighted a number of key issues of concern which arose from the casefiles;
- “Firstly, FLAC are concerned about the use of strict confidentiality clauses in the settlement of proceedings against the State. These clauses prohibit us revealing not just the terms of settlement but the fact of the settlement of proceedings. These clauses effectively act to inhibit discussion of allegations of wrongdoing by the State and we fail to see how such clauses can be in the public interest.
- “Secondly, FLAC are concerned about the imprecise nature of the legislation dealing with Garda vetting prior to the allocation of local authority housing and the nature of some disclosures being made by An Garda Siochana, containing misinformation and hearsay, leading to a delay or refusal of housing. Guidance needs to be provided to members of An Garda Siochana about their vetting role. We have written to the Commissioner highlighting our concerns
- “Another concern is delays in social welfare appeals where clients are not in receipt of any payment, where their payments have been suspended or where a significant overpayment has been assessed against them. Two social welfare appeals ledged in 2017 only received hearing dates in 2019. One social welfare appeal lodged in early 2018 still has not received a hearing date.
Eilis Barry stated:
“Through 2018 we advocated for a root and branch review of the 40 year old scheme of legal aid and advice to include the delays, the means test, the accommodation and child care allowances, the legal aid fees, and the areas of law covered. The Chief Justice Frank Clarke recently reiterated his call for a broader and deeper legal aid scheme and has set out the economic and moral arguments to support such an investment. The Legal Aid Board is a fundamental part of the administration of justice and the rule of law, and needs a major investment of resources to deal with all kinds of cases where the greatest need is including housing and discrimination claims.
We welcome the very recent enactment of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2019 which gives greater powers to the Circuit Court to refuse to grant a possession order. This Act introduces a defence for potentially thousands of people in long-term arrears and a significant percentage of these people are likely to be entitled to legal aid.
We are concerned however that the Legal Aid Board Aid simply does not have the resources to deal with the significant increase in demand which it will now face. The Abhaile scheme cannot provide legal representation for these people. The Legal Aid Board will require a significant immediate increase in its funding simply to deal with the new demand on its already overstretched resources. The welcome provisions of this new Act will only be effective if they can be enforced. It is vital that there is a legal aid audit when any new legislation is passed. “
FLAC’s information line regularly receives calls from lay litigants who are representing themselves in complex court cases and who are desperately in need of assistance, advice and representation, which FLAC does not have the resources to provide.
FLAC recommends all court forms and procedures should be accessible, precise, clear and reader-friendly in plain English FLAC also advocated for the courts to be more user friendly in particular for lay people and people with disabilities. We believe there should be guides on matters such as the listing system, call overs, hearing dates, and a “nutshell” guide for lay litigants on how to represent yourself in court.
Eilis Barry thanked the work of the volunteer lawyers, those who provide their expertise and time in the clinics, those on the PILA pro bono register and those who assist with FLAC’s case work. She thanked the staff in the Citizens Information Services and Citizens Information Board who facilitate and host the clinics. She also thanked all of FLAC’s donors and funders - philanthropic, Governments Departments, statutory bodies, the Law Society, the Bar Council, the law firms, solicitors and barristers who continue to make FLAC’s work possible.
Minister Flanagan added
“I am very pleased that my department was in the position, in 2018, to provide €40,000 in funding for FLAC’s Roma Clinic initiative, in addition to the €98,000 department funding towards the ongoing information, advice and advocacy work carried out by FLAC. I would also like acknowledge the crucial financial support provided by other bodies including the Law Society, Bar Council, legal practitioners and philanthropic donors that has allowed over 25,000 people receive assistance from FLAC in 2018.”
The FLAC 2018 Annual Report is also available to download from the FLAC website at https://www.flac.ie/assets/files/pdf/flac_annual_report_2018_final.pdf
Notes to the editor
1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres – www.flac.ie) is an independent legal and human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice. 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.
2. What does FLAC do?
- Operates a legal information and referral telephone line.
- Runs a nationwide network of legal advice clinics where volunteer lawyers provide basic free legal advice.
- Is an Independent Law Centre that engages in strategic litigation and takes on cases in the public interest.
- Provides specialist legal advice to advisers in the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and in Citizens Information Services (CISs) on social welfare, personal debt and consumer credit law.
- Engages in research and advocates for policy and law reform in areas of law that most affect disadvantaged and marginalised people.
- Through Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), operates a
Pro Bono Referral Scheme and engages the legal community and civil society in using the law to advance social change.
- Provides administrative, communications, statistical and legal support to the Child Care Law Reporting Project.
- During early 2018 FLAC was an associate partner of and facilitated the JUSTROM programme which promoted access to justice for Roma and Traveller women.
- Runs a Roma Legal Clinic, which began in June 2018.
3. Headline statistics for FLAC information services in 2018:
Statistics from FLAC’s Telephone Information and Referral Line
FLAC’s telephone information and referral line provided 11,486 callers with legal information in 2018.
What were the calls about?
24.2 % FAMILY LAW
- 38% related to divorce and separation
- 26% concerned custody/access/ guardianship issues
- 18% were about maintenance
- Civil partnership queries rose by 12%
- Domestic violence queries rose by 11%
10.7% EMPLOYMENT LAW
- 34% related to contract terms
- 16% were about dismissal
- 11% included grievance procedures
- 8% related to redundancy
- 8% were about bullying/harassment
7.7% HOUSING RELATED
- 50% of calls came from tenants
- 43% of calls came from landlords
- 2% from a lodger
- With the remainder from letting agents and management companies
Queries to Telephone Information & Referral Line 2018
Area of law:
% of calls
Housing/Landlord & Tenant
Credit & Debt
Property/Interest in Land
Legal representation issues
Statistics from Legal Advice Clinics
In 2018, 13,678 service users attended FLAC clinics in 71 locations.
What were the queries about?
• 34.1 % Family law
• 15.6 % Employment law
• 9.6 % Wills/probate
• 7% Housing/landlord and tenant issues
Family law: of 4664 queries
- Divorce and separation (52%) followed by custody, access and guardianship
- 418 callers - Domestic violence
Employment law: of 2129 queries
- 533 - 25% Contract terms
- 491 - 23% Dismissal
- 214 - 10% Discrimination
- 182 - 9% Redundancy
Queries in Legal Advice Clinics 2018
% of service users
Housing/Landlord & Tenant
Property/Interest in Land
Credit & Debt
Legal representation issues
4. Legal cases: Further information on FLAC’s recent legal casework is contained in FLAC’s Annual Report 2018, available on request.
5. Legal Aid means test
You will only qualify for legal aid if you have an income of less than €18,000. In assessing your means you are only allowed an allowance of €8,000 per year for accommodation costs and up to €6,000 per annum for Childcare expenses. Legal aid is not free Even where a person is on an income of less than €18,000, they must make a financial contribution. The minimum contribution for legal aid is €130 which is significant if you are on the reduced rate of social welfare paid to under 26s. Persons may be required to make contributions in the region of thousands of euros that may be akin to some private practitioner fees.
The latest figures from the LAB show that there is a waiting time for a first appointment of 61 weeks in Finglas, 33 weeks in Tralee, and 24 weeks in Cork Popes Quay and 22 weeks in Dundalk. There are significant delays in waiting times for a first appointment.
6. The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Act 2019 was commenced on August 1st 2019 (by SI 397/2019) and has major implications in repossession cases concerning mortgage arrears on the borrower’s PPR (Principal Private Residence) in that it obliges the Circuit Court to consider six specific stated criteria when deciding whether to grant or to refuse to grant Possession Orders.
It amends the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform 2013 Act by inserting a Section 2A after the existing S.2 of the 2013 Act. S.2 of the 2013 Act is the provision that allows the Circuit Court to adjourn a Principal Private Residence (PPR) repossession case to allow the defendant borrower to consult with a Personal Insolvency Practitioner (PIP) with a view to proposing a Personal Insolvency Arrangement (PIA).
Section 2A (1) applies to repossession cases relating to land which is the principal private residence (PPR) of the borrower and where one of the following conditions are met:
· the case was adjourned for the borrower to consult a PIP but where a PIA did materialise;
· where such an adjournment was sought but was refused by the court;
· where the borrower (prior to or following the commencement of the repossession proceedings) has participated in ‘good faith’ in a designated scheme or
· where the defendant borrower has (already) engaged the services of a PIP but this has not resulted in a PIA
Section 2A (2) provides that the Court, shall, when considering whether to grant or refuse to grant a Possession Order and, may, when considering whether to make any other Order it considers appropriate, take account of a list of designated matters set out in S.2A (3) and such ‘additional matters it considers appropriate’.
The six designated matters in S.2A (3) which the Court shall take account of are:
1. whether the making of the order would be ‘proportionate’ in all the circumstances (broken down into further criteria in s. 2A (4))
2. the circumstances of the borrower and dependants living in the PPR
3. whether the lender has made a statement to the borrower of the terms it would be prepared to settle the matter in a way that would enable the defendant and dependants to remain in their home
4. the details of any proposal made (before or after the issue of the proceedings) by or on behalf of the borrower to remain in the PPR, including in a designated scheme, or to secure alternative accommodation
5. the response of the lender to any proposal made by the borrower
6. the conduct of the parties in any attempt to find a resolution to the mortgage arrears problem