‘Accidental landlords’ lead to rise in demand for legal advice

Flac report show half of all debt-related queries are from people seeking help with mortgage arrears

The rising number of “accidental landlords” who rent out their homes in order to meet mortgage expenses has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking legal assistance on housing issues.

That's according to the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac), whose annual report for 2012, shows calls to its information line on housing or landlord and tenant matters rose by 70 per cent. Queries at its drop-in centres on the same topics rose by 15 per cent – a trend Flac attributed partly to the growing numbers of people renting out their homes to meet mortgage repayments.

The report, published today, shows that of almost 13,000 people who received basic legal advice from the centres last year, more than a third – 34 per cent – had queries about family law. Of those callers, almost half had concerns related to separation and divorce, while more than 30 per cent had questions about custody, access and guardianship of children.

Debt-related problems

Employment, which accounted for 15 per cent of inquiries, continued to be the second-most common type of query at the centres, followed by credit- and debt-related problems (10 per cent). In 2012, there was an 11 per cent increase in inquiries about solicitor-client relations.


The report said 2012 was a busy year that “stretched the capacity” of Flac’s staff and volunteers in furthering the organisation’s mission to promote equal access to justice.

"Throughout the year, the economic recession continued to particularly impact on those who are most vulnerable in our society, with many issues arising as a result of inadequate systems for people seeking to manage their problems to a decent and dignified conclusion," it states.

Waiting times

In addition to in-person queries at its 81 centres, Flac’s telephone line took 12,459 calls. Some 23 per cent of callers had a family law query, 12 per cent were concerned about a credit or debt issue, and employment accounted for 7.7 per cent of calls. Almost half of all debt-related queries were from people seeking help with mortgage arrears.

The report draws attention to waiting times for legal aid across the country. At the end of 2012, there were 5,068 people waiting for a first appointment with a solicitor, with average waiting times varying hugely from just one month in Monaghan to 15 months in Clondalkin and Wicklow.

"In spite of the best efforts of the Legal Aid Board, those who sought to access civil legal aid in 2012 often had to wait for far longer than is acceptable," according to the report's foreword, by chairman Peter Ward SC and director general Noeline Blackwell.

Calls to Flac about legal aid also rose significantly, increasing by almost 35 per cent, while calls on negligence and personal injuries were up a third over the previous year.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times