Thursday, March 12, 2009

Legal Aid lottery in Scotland : None to fight repossessions but plenty for crime

Plenty legal aid for criminals as we all know .. but people getting thrown out of their houses by lenders … well that's another story as many are now finding out .. while Justice Secretary MacAskill drags his feet as usual ..

The Sunday Herald reports :

Legal aid for repossession cases is vital, says Labour

By John Bynorth, Home Affairs Editor

LABOUR HAS accused the Scottish government of needlessly throwing people who cannot afford to keep up their mortgage payments on to the street by failing to provide them with an automatic right to legal aid for action to prevent repossession.

Health spokeswoman Cathy Jamieson, pictured below, said the lack of protection available to struggling home-owners compared with those living in England and Wales was "unacceptable" and that ministers were failing to listen to those who deal with the fall-out on a daily basis.

Her criticism came after the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) revealed on Friday that the number of people losing their homes to lenders had hit a 12-year high in the UK. CML said 40,000 properties were repossessed in 2008 against 25,900 the previous year, and warned that 75,000 homes will be handed back to banks and building societies as unemployment continues to rise.

Govan Law Centre has reported a year-on-year 50% rise in cases, with 15 repossession actions before the court in January and 20 this month.

Jamieson called on the SNP administration to provide a right to legal aid and to follow the UK government's move to impose a legal duty on leaders and courts to make repossession a last resort. She claimed this had contributed to reducing the numbers of people losing their homes south of the border in the final three months of 2008.

She said: "I am very concerned that families are needlessly being thrown onto the street because the SNP are refusing to offer the same protection to vulnerable homeowners in Scotland as is available south of the border.

"The number of people facing repossession has doubled as a result of the global economic crisis. Pre-court protocols would help prevent families from losing their homes.

"Ministers should listen carefully to the views of those who are dealing with repossessions on a day-to-day basis. Their message is that the Scottish government's refusal to act on this issue is simply unacceptable."

Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre said: "CML's figures are extremely worrying and entirely consistent with our experience. We could halt that increase if the Scottish government was prepared to introduce a pre-action protocol to ensure that repossession was a genuine last resort. At present, mortgage repossession in Scotland is often a first resort for many lenders."

Holyrood's housing and communities minister, Alex Neil, said it is "ahead of the game" when compared with the UK government through its decision to increase funding to £35 million for the Home Owners' Support Fund, which entitles those who cannot access help elsewhere to remain in their homes through a "mortgage to rent" and shared equity schemes. It also gave £1m of funding to Citizens Advice Scotland.

He added: "We have also set up a Holyrood Repossessions Group to report by 30 April on whether legislative protection for those at risk of losing their home requires further strengthening."

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