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Free legal advice service sees demand increase

FLAC advice service dealt with over 25,000 queries last year.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

FREE LEGAL ADVICE Centres (FLAC) has said that the public’s need for information and assistance on legal matters continues to rise across Ireland.

In 2011, almost 13,000 people called FLAC’s helpline, an increase of 39 per cent on last year while another 13,362 people visited the group’s legal advice centres, a rise of 22 per cent, according to its annual report for 2011.

FLAC noted a development around increasing debt problems intersecting with issues in other areas of law such as family, employment and housing.

Noeline Blackwell, FLAC Director General said the group has seen the terrible impact of over-indebtedness on people contacting them, having dealt with some 83,000 in the last four years.

Commenting on the increasing number of people struggling to meet their mortgage payments Blackwell said;

We have kept it simple: we need an independent, out-of-court debt settlement structure that will examine people’s personal debt in a holistic way and where possible aim to keep people in their homes.

Blackwell said that there are elements missing from the proposed Legal Services Reform Bill that could open up the law for more people, “such as a better funded state legal aid system and a focus on making the courts more accessible”.

Speaking at the launch of the FLAC report, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said that in spite of the many changes that have taken place in our society during the past four decades, it is not surprising that “the number one issue for those seeking FLAC assistance still concerns family law”.

Shatter said new laws on personal insolvency that will be published by the end of the month will offer more clarity to people struggling with debt.

He added that the government aims to “establish independent regulation of the legal professions to improve access and competition, make legal costs more transparent and ensure adequate procedures for addressing consumer complaints.”

Blackwell welcomed the minister’s recognistion of a need for reform. “Any person can end up fully reliant on outside support, in circumstances beyond his or her control,” she said. “It is therefore in everyone’s interest to make all our systems respect basic human rights and decency, especially in recessionary times.”

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