Belfast Telegraph

More than 25,000 people sought free legal advice

In its annual report, the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) said that the top queries involved family law, employment law, wills and housing.

Justice Minister for the Republic of Ireland Charlie Flanagan (Brian Lawless/PA)
Justice Minister for the Republic of Ireland Charlie Flanagan (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

More than 25,000 people sought legal information and help from free legal advice centres last year, figures have shown.

In its annual report, the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) said that the top queries involved family law, employment law, wills and housing.

The human rights body also dealt with 108 casefiles on housing, discrimination and social welfare.

These figures are to be announced in its 2018 annual report, which will be launched by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan on Wednesday.

Flac is also calling for a root and branch review of the 40-year-old legal aid scheme and advice as well as major investment in the Legal Aid Board to deal with increased demand in  mortgage arrears repossession hearings.

Flac are concerned about the use of strict confidentiality clauses in the settlement of proceedings against the State Eilis Barry

In its report, Flac has also voiced its concerns about the use of strict confidentiality clauses in the settlement of proceedings against the State as well as the delay in hearing social welfare appeals and garda vetting in the  allocation of local authority housing.

Some 115 social justice organisations received legal assistance through Flac’s public interest law project PILA, from private practitioners acting pro-bono.

Flac is an independent law centre which takes on cases in the public interest.

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 their cases concerned an unauthorised eviction carried out by a landlord against a couple and their three children who became homeless on foot of the illegal eviction.

Flac said it secured one of the highest awards of compensation given by the Residential Tenancies Board when the landlord was ordered to pay 13,766,15 euro.

Flac chief executive Eilis Barry highlighted her key concerns.

“Flac are concerned about the use of strict confidentiality clauses in the settlement of proceedings against the State,” she said.

“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.”

The organisation said it was concerned about the “imprecise” nature of the legislation dealing with Garda vetting prior to the allocation of local authority housing and the nature of a number of disclosures made by the gardai.

“The (disclosures) have contained misinformation and hearsay, leading to a delay or refusal of housing,” she added.

“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 lodged in 2017 only received hearing dates in 2019.

“One social welfare appeal lodged in early 2018 still has not received a hearing date.”

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.”

PA

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph