Pandemic saw rise in people seeking free legal help, says organisation

Demand for services increases, particularly in area of employment and housing

Pandemic-related employment and housing problems have led to a spike in appeals for legal help, according to an organisation that provides legal assistance.

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) assisted more than 4,000 people in Dublin and Limerick last year with a combination of free legal advice, advocacy, mediation and education services.

However, it noticed demand for services increased by 33 per cent at the peak of the pandemic “particularly in the area of employment and housing as people faced the prospect of losing their jobs or their homes”.

With hundreds of face-to-face consultations, CLM said it recorded a 60 per cent rise in the number of people seeking information and advice about employment during Covid-19 and a 40 per cent rise relating to housing concerns.

About 10 per cent of those seeking help were at risk of becoming homeless and a third were unemployed. The data gives another insight into how the ongoing health emergency has spilled over into other aspects of day-to-day life.

"We often encounter a lack of awareness of how the law can assist with employment situations, homelessness or refusal of social welfare, issues that are critical to social inclusion," said the organisation's chief executive, Rose Wall.

“A major barrier is the fact that it is not currently possible to access legal aid for employment or equality cases. If, for example, a woman working in a supermarket is fired from her job after telling her employer she is pregnant, she will not be entitled to legal aid. If she is not in a union and cannot afford a private solicitor, she may have to represent herself against a team of employment lawyers.”

CLM said a commitment by the the Department of Justice to conduct a review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme later this year should include a priority for community education on legal rights and access to legal aid for employment and equality cases.