26,000 get free legal advice

Almost 26,000 people received free legal advice from FLAC last year but some are waiting up to six months for a first consultation in a Legal Aid Board office.

Figures in FLAC’s 2016 annual report, to be launched today, show that of the 12,229 calls to its helpline, almost a quarter (24%) related to family law. The second most common issue was housing/landlord and tenant issues (8.6%) followed by employment law (7.9%).

Of the 13,481 callers to its clinics, family law accounted for 34% of cases, employment law 14.7%, with wills and probate accounting for 9.5%, and housing issues 7.4%.

About one third of family law calls related to divorce and separation, followed by custody, access, and guardianship issues at 30%. Questions about maintenance accounted for another 17%.

Of the housing calls, 48% came from tenants, 43% from landlords, with the rest from letting agents, management companies, and lodgers.

One third of employment law calls were about contract terms, 17% were about dismissal, followed by other issues including redundancy, grievance procedures, bullying, harassment, maternity leave, and discrimination.

FLAC chief executive Eilis Barry said the numbers seeking assistance clearly demonstrate an acute need for legal advice and aid.

Figures released this month show people are waiting up to six months for a first consultation at some legal aid board law centres despite High Court directions that waiting times for civil legal aid should not exceed two to four months.

The longest waiting lists are in Longford at 36 weeks, 29 weeks in Navan and Nenagh, and 23 weeks in Kilkenny. In Cork, there is a 17-week wait at the Pope’s Quay clinic and 25 weeks at the South Mall clinic. Waiting times for a second consultation are up to 49 weeks in Tallaght, and 43 weeks in Jervis St, Dublin.

Ms Barry welcomed the recent announcement of the Legal Aid Board to defer its decision to restrict referrals to the district court family law private practitioners to priority matters — domestic violence and enforcement of maintenance, but not access, custody or guardianship.

The private practitioner scheme is used by applicants who are unable to get an appointment in a legal aid law centre before a court date.

Ms Barry said given the waiting lists, the deferral will avoid distress, confusion, and uncertainty for applicants and families, and disruption for the courts.

FLAC chairman Peter Ward praised the commitment of its volunteer lawyers and said it will monitor the progress of the Abhaile scheme of legal aid for people in mortgage arrears who are in danger of repossession.


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