Many problems have legal solutions but without legal knowledge, the law can be difficult to navigate. George, a volunteer lawyer at our legal advice clinics, explains how the one-off advice he and others give often provides the solution needed.
What is your role at the Law Centre?
I work at the Law Centre as a part-time adviser. In my day job I am a commercial barrister in the City of London, but for the last 15 years I have spent time every month at the Law Centre.
The reason I am telling you about myself is to explain some of the variety of the people who work at the Law Centre, and by extension, that the Law Centre can advise on a variety of subjects.
What sorts of things do you advise on?
I am going to give you a couple of examples of problems I have advised on, but beforehand, it is useful to understand how much use the Law Centre can be in lots of areas.
Many people can find themselves in a position where they need some help, or they may have received formal letters that they need help in answering.
Often, what is needed is somebody with experience in reading, reviewing and replying to letters: the problem may relate to a tenancy; it may relate to a letter from an insurance company; it may be a dispute with a tradesman.
Many times the answer may be straightforward for a Law Centre adviser, who can sit with you (remotely at present) and listen to the issue, read some documents and write a letter back to the other person, company or other institution.
It is also useful to see someone at the Law Centre because it may be the case that the person you are in dispute with is actually in the right, and you may need to negotiate a resolution to stop the matter escalating: our job is very often advising clients that they need to try to come to a halfway house, or even do what is asked of them, rather than finding a way out on exactly the client’s terms.
We find that the issue is often capable of being resolved by sending a letter, either on Law Centre notepaper, or from the client’s own address, that sets out the client’s case. For example:
- Recently I have had issues with unfinished building works, where my client wanted money back from a builder, and another one where she wanted a builder to return to site.
- I have had a case where a client had an argument with a high street kitchen fitter about a problem with an order, we had letters and a to-and fro, which ended with the client getting her kitchen.
- I had a case for a lady who rented a holiday caravan and had a dispute with the campsite over fees.
- I had a case for a gentleman who had flight tickets to Nigeria and had a dispute with the travel agent over the tickets when he wanted to change them as his wife had become pregnant.
- I had a case for a lady who had paid for spa treatment following surgery to her face, and the spa refused to complete the treatments and wrote that the business had shut down.
Could you give a case study?
It seems to me the most useful case study relates to tenancies, and there are three areas:
- Deposit protection
- Interference from landlords
- Early termination/negotiation
The law requires that all landlords pay the deposit into a deposit protection scheme. Then, at the end of the tenancy, if the landlord and the tenant can’t agree that the deposit goes back to the tenant – for example, if there are repairs required, the rent is unpaid or suchlike – the parties negotiate. If they can’t agree, the scheme may provide dispute resolution services.
I have had cases where the landlord has not placed the deposit in a scheme: if that happens, the tenant can claim for up to three times the value of the deposit. I have also had cases where the tenant is concerned that their deposit is not protected, so I have written, mentioned the possibility of a large claim and the deposit has been placed in the scheme.
Interference from Landlords
Each tenant has a ‘right of quiet enjoyment’ in their lease. This is legal jargon that means that the landlord is not allowed in to the property except with proper notice and for reasons set out in the tenancy: normally carrying out necessary repairs, or showing the flat to prospective tenants at the end of a tenancy. However, these rights will normally be clearly set out in the tenancy.
I have had a number of cases, especially recently, with worries over Covid meaning that tenants are not happy to let people in and around their property.
I have also had cases where landlords are not permitted to come without proper notice.
Resolving these matters is normally very straightforward, the Law Centre adviser can read and consider the tenancy, advise you of your rights, and help with a letter or email.
Early termination / renegotiation
The same happens here: a tenancy is a record of an agreement between a landlord and a tenant. There are certain fixed rules that it has to follow. But, as with all agreements, there can be an opportunity to renegotiate. Landlords like tenants to stay – and often may listen to requests to renegotiate rents / extend or shorten tenancies.
I had a case recently where the tenancy had a section that allowed the tenant to be released from obligations if she found a replacement tenant. The tenant found someone to take her place, and arranged what is known as the surrender of the tenancy. The agent then sent her a bill for £3,000 for ‘early surrender.’ In law, the agent had no right to charge this, but sent a threatening letter. I advised the client, wrote a letter, and it was all sorted.
So, those are a few issues where we can help.
What else do the clinics help with?
The thing to remember is that you can get help with lots of problems, like advice on a contract, for example, a bill, a contract with a builder, a phone or gas bill, or a tenancy. We also advise on employment matters, although I don’t do much of that myself.
The above information is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such; if you need advice, please check if we can help.