09 October 2012

Winning Bid Delivers More Help for Homeowners

Free Money Advice can enable struggling homeowners to resolve wider complex debt problems, and assist access to court representation for those not entitled to legal aid.

Projects across Scotland are benefitting under the Scottish Legal Aid Board's 2012-15 grant funding activity, for which a total of £7 million has been made available. The funding is for projects which provide legal advice and assistance to people facing repossession, homelessness and debt.

Lindsay Montgomery, CBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, said of the projects supported by the funding:
"(They) will play an important role in helping find long-term solutions for people struggling with financial difficulties by dealing with the underlying debts that are often the root cause of housing problems. Spread across Scotland, they will be seeking solutions that prevent homelessness and try to put in place sustainable debt solutions."

A much needed boost

CHAI, the lead contractor for the Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership (EHAP) has been providing a Lay Representative Service at Edinburgh Sheriff Court's 'heritable court' for several years for people facing difficulties with their rents. Other debts are frequently an integral part of housing issues. The SLAB funding will provide a much needed boost to the availability of Money Advice services in Edinburgh and Midlothian.

Access to justice

Free Money Advice is also essential in enabling access to justice for Homeowners not entitled to legal aid and unable to afford expensive solicitors' fees

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, said:
"These successful recipients represent the diversity of organisations doing great work across our communities to provide access to justice. I wish all of them well as they develop their activities and look forward to hearing more about their progress."


sheriff court 1

Free Money Advice will assist struggling home-owners to resolve wider complex debt problems, and assist access to court representation for those not entitled to legal aid.

CHAI to expand its Sheriff Court activities

In 2010, the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act allowed mortgage cases to be heard in one court, similar to rent cases - and allows Approved Lay Representatives to appear for Defenders.

David Gardner said the aim of the grant funding from the Scottish Legal Aid Board is to enable CHAI to expand its Sheriff Court activities to incorporate the 'mortgage court' element.


Direct assistance

It allows for three new full-time money advisers to be employed by CHAI, Foursquare and Granton Information Centre under the EHAP banner.

They will provide direct assistance and representation focused on homelessness prevention resolution, particularly of mortgage repossession actions and related debt matters.

"For the first time we will be representing homeowners facing repossession because of mortgage arrears," he said.

"The funding allows us to offer a full service, from standing up and stating the cases in the Sheriff Court to offering comprehensive money advice casework afterwards."

Edinburgh and Midlothian

The project will also be able to expand its geographical focus beyond Edinburgh and assist Midlothian residents with both mortgage repossession and rent issues.  Last year, in Edinburgh alone, over 1,300 notifications were made by lenders that they had initiated formal legal proceedings to repossess properties following mortgage default.

Access to specialist advice and representation

David said that most people facing mortgage repossession actions are there because of wider complex debt problems.

He said debt management advisers would have a whole range of tools at their disposal to address the difficulties facing those with serious debt problems.

"Ideally we want to get people to present early but it could be a case of: 'I'm in court next week and may lose my house'.

"We can go into the court with them, hopefully get a delay to allow us to put in place some of the solutions that are available. We will be able to identify when people have a defence to the action and work with solicitors to provide access to specialist advice and representation. "

Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership can be contacted on 0845 302 4607.

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