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How to get legal help

If you've got a housing problem, you might need some help to sort it out. This page shows you that there are various ways in which the law can help you.

How can an adviser help me?

Advisers will have knowledge of how housing law works and can point out your rights to the people on the other side of your dispute, whether that be your landlord or your local council, for example.

If you need more specialised legal advice or representation in court, advisers should be able to put you in touch with a law centre or solicitor who can help. Advisers can sometimes also represent you in court as 'lay representatives'. You can find more information in our section on legal representation.

How can a solicitor help me?

If you have a legal problem, a solicitor can explain how your case will be handled and give you legal advice.

  • Legal advice - If you're dealing with an official organisation or a difficult landlord who is not obeying the law (for example, if you've had problems applying to the council as homeless or your landlord is trying to evict you illegally), a solicitor will be able to advise you on what your legal rights are and whether it's worth your while taking your complaint further. Solicitors can also help you to apply for legal aid to help with legal costs.
  • Write a letter on your behalf - a solicitor can write a letter on your behalf. This might be enough to make the other side sit up and take notice of what you're saying and hopefully it will be enough to sort the problem out. Sometimes your solicitor will end the letter with the words 'without prejudice'. This will only be included in letters that aim to reach agreement. Adding these words to a letter means that it can't be produced as evidence in court at a later date. So it really reserves your right to make further arguments later on if it comes to that.
  • Negotiate - your solicitor may be able to negotiate an agreement with the other side. So, for example, if you've been having money problems and need to reduce your rent payments for a while, your solicitor will be able to explain this to your landlord and, hopefully, come to an agreement to suit both sides (for example, that you'll repay the arrears by instalments you can afford).
  • Representation - if none of the above steps work, your solicitor will be able to give you more legal advice and will be able to represent you in court if necessary.

What do I need to do?

It's really important that you tell your solicitor everything that's relevant to your case at all times. This won't necessarily be brought up in court. You must also tell your solicitor if your situation changes (for example, if you lose your job). If you don't tell them certain things (for example, about any debts you might have or that your neighbours have been complaining about your behaviour), it could cause you more problems further down the line. Your solicitor is there to give you appropriate and accurate legal advice and to represent your best interests. To do their job properly, they need lots of information from you, so it's really important that you tell them everything that's relevant to your case and answer any questions they have fully.

Make sure that your solicitor knows how to contact you so that they can do so quickly if necessary. You have to tell them what you want to do (this is called 'giving your instructions') before they can do anything on your behalf and they might need to speak to you urgently before they can take further action.

How much does it cost to employ a solicitor? 

Employing a solicitor can be expensive but you might be able to get legal aid. Ask the solicitor how much their services will cost before you get them to do any work for you and make sure you get a fee quote or estimate in writing. Our page on solicitors' fees and charges has more details.

Reaching an agreement

As mentioned above, your solicitor might be able to negotiate an agreement between you and the person you've got a problem with at an early stage before you even think about going to court. For example, the agreement might be that:

  • you'll pay back your rent arrears in instalments you can afford, or
  • that a rent arrears case should be adjourned so you can sort out an application for housing benefit.

They might be able to do this on the phone, in a meeting or in a letter.

However, if things have gone a bit further and your case is going to court, in certain circumstances, your solicitor might still be able to agree a compromise with the other side. For example, if you've got lots of rent arrears, your landlord might agree not to evict you if you make some payments towards your arrears. If your solicitor can reach an agreement on your behalf, they'll explain what will happen next.

An agreement like this can happen on the day your case is due to be in court. Your solicitor will keep you updated and will have to speak to you ('take your instructions') before anything is agreed - your solicitor will discuss all your options fully with you.

The sooner you contact your solicitor before your case is due to go to court the more likely it is that they'll be able to reach an agreement on your behalf, although your solicitor or adviser will still have to go to court to tell the sheriff what's been agreed. Have a look at our pages on court decisions and what happens during the hearing for more information. The court might ask your solicitor and your opponent to come back in a couple of weeks, for example, (this is called a 'continuation') to see how things are going and to make sure you've been sticking to your agreement. If you haven't been sticking to the agreement, it's likely that the court will make a decision against you. As a worst case scenario, the court could decide that it's reasonable for your landlord to evict you.

Going to court

If you can't reach an agreement with the other side, you might have to go to court to sort out your problem.

If you've got a housing problem, your case will probably be heard in your local sheriff court.

Your solicitor will be able to advise you on what to do if your case comes to court, and you can also look at other pages in this section to find out what happens in court, including information about arriving at court and how to behave and what to wear.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're in England

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