Calls to the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) phone line were up by 10 per cent last year, according to the organisation's annual report out today.
And Flac’s report for 2013, due to be launched this morning by Chief Justice Susan Denham, shows queries about housing rose by more than 80 per cent.
The organisation provides free legal advice at 81 locations around the country as well as through its information line with the help of more than 700 volunteer lawyers.
In 2013, more than 13,500 people contacted the phone line, up by more than 10 per cent on 2012, and over 13,800 people visited Flac offices, up by 6 per cent.
Family law remained the most common query, making up more than 20 per cent of calls and 34 per cent of queries at advice centres.
There was an 83 per cent increase in queries related to housing, including landlord and tenant issues, via the phone line and among those going to the centres, it rose by almost 13 per cent.
Calls about disputes with neighbours dramatically increased, rising by 56 per cent on 2012 and queries about legal services, including how to apply for legal aid, increased by almost 48 per cent.
There were more than 110 complaints about the State civil legal aid service, the Legal Aid Board, and more than 470 calls from people confused about the board.
Flac said the board deals primarily with family law and requires applicants to have a disposable income of less than €18,000 a year. “Even if you pass the means test, in some parts of the country you will wait up to a year for even an initial consultation with a State lawyer.
“This cannot be seen as satisfying the right of access to justice,” it said.
The organisation said many people find themselves in desperate situations through no fault of their own and need support.
“This support must come from State systems that are as fair, accessible and transparent as possible,” it said.
“The State should adopt a human-rights-based approach to budgeting.”
On the proposed Legal Services Regulation Bill, due to be revisited this autumn, the organisation said it overlooks elements which would make legal services more accessible, such as adequate civil legal aid and reforms within the court system itself.
“This is especially the case as waiting lists at the State Legal Aid Board continue to lengthen beyond the legally set maximum of four months, while the board’s funding and staff levels remain prohibitively limited,” it said.
The report also raised concerns about powers given to the Department of Social Protection allowing it to make deductions from social welfare payments “below that which the State itself recognises as minimum subsistence”. The deductions can be made in the event of overpayment even when the mistake is by the department.
“As a result, many people will struggle to survive with serious hardship,” the report said.