The organisation’s 2014 annual report, which will be released later today, shows the organisation helped over 28,000 people at its legal centres and through its helpline last year — its busiest year to date. Housing, family law and employment issues dominated queries.
Its helpline alone dealt with 15,005 calls — a 10% increase on 2013. But for the second year in a row, the helpline recorded a huge increase in calls about housing-related issues, from 640 in 2012 to 2,140 last year.
Neighbour dispute calls are up 17% since 2013, and housing, landlord and tenant calls up an incredible 81.7%. This is on top of an 83% increase over 2012, Flac’s director general Noeline Blackwell said.
“This makes housing the second largest area of enquiry on our phoneline, with family law and credit and debt law problems the other top areas.”
More of the queries were related to landlord and tenant issues, with management company issues and rent issues also prevalent.
Flac has now developed a legal guide for the public on anti-social behaviour and noise in neighbourhoods which will be launched by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald as part of the publication of its 2014 annual report.
The report shows just over a third of callers to Flac’s centres and 21% of callers to its helpline had a family law query, with almost half about divorce or separation, followed by custody, access or guardianship, maintenance and the family home.
However, Flac has seen a significant decrease in the number of credit and debt-related queries to the lowest rate in four years, with most of the debt-related queries concerning mortgagearrears. Flac senior policy analyst Paul Joyce said 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. He also warned that Ireland needs robust legal protections for consumers of financial services.
Flac chairman Peter Ward SC said access to justice is a fundamental part of any democracy.
“Flac’s analysis on consumer credit and debt 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.
“Through Flac and its partner services, we were able to help almost 28,400 people in 2014.”