This is a list of all the services I am aware of which specifically provide free or paid for services for residential tenants. This page is adapted from an article which originally appeared on my Landlord Law Blog.
Shelter are the top housing law charity in this country. They have a fabulous website which is divided into separate sides for England / Wales and Scotland.
Their online advice guide is full of useful help for tenants and should be your first port of call.
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)
The CAB is the main legal charity in this country and you will generally find a CAB office in most cities, towns and large villages.
However, as they deal with many areas of consumer law, your local office may not have anyone particularly knowledgeable about housing law, which is a bit of a specialist subject.
So if you are making an appointment to see someone, make sure you let them know that your problem is housing related, so they can find an advisor for you who has some experience in this area.
Generally, CAB staff are particularly good with debt advice and help on benefit issues.
Local Authority advice services
Local Authorities have a statutory duty to advise tenants, on homelessness and the prevention of homelessness under s179 of the Housing Act 1986. Some confine their advice just to homelessness problems, but others provide advice on other tenant-related issues too.
Many of the larger authorities will have professionally staffed advice centres and dedicated TROs (tenancy relations officers).
Conversely, some authorities (for example the rural authorities) who don’t have a lot of rented property in their area, will have limited staff tasked with this work. However, as it is a statutory duty they should have someone you can speak to – at least if you are threatened with homelessness.
These are all free services so are worth checking out if you are experiencing problems with your landlord – plus if they find your landlord has been acting against the law, as enforcers, the Local Authorities will have the clout to do something about it.
Whether they actually do, say, bring a prosecution though, will often depend on the LA resources and staffing levels.
If you are lucky enough to have a law centre near you, then this is an excellent place to go for free advice and legal help.
They are often staffed with experienced housing2 solicitors. Even the unqualified staff will normally have received proper training and be supervised by people who really know their subject.
Unlike many other advice organisations, the Law Centres will be able to act for you in legal proceedings at no charge. However, with the continual reduction in legal aid, Law Centres are finding it increasingly difficult to survive.
You will find a list of them all here.
Although solicitors are businesses and need to charge for their services in order to survive, they do offer some free services. For example, many firms will offer an initial free or fixed fee interview.
Obviously, these are designed to encourage you to use their paid services. However they can be useful if you just want someone to give some quick advice, or perhaps take a look at some paperwork for you.
Don’t forget also that many services can be funded by no win no fee agreements – particularly personal injury claims.
So if you or your family are suffering illnesses caused by the poor condition of your rented home – you should be able to find someone to act with no upfront payment from you. Assuming your landlord is likely to be able to pay up.
However, be warned – many firms do not have staff who understand landlord & tenant law. As I say above, this is a specialist area of law and not something your average family or personal injury lawyer will have much experience in.
Even if your claim IS a personal injury claim, if it is housing related, you will be better off with a solicitor from a firm with a good housing law department.
If you are on a low income, note also that you can still sometimes get legal aid for housing-related issues. You can search for a legal aid solicitor (or legal advisor) here.
Your insurance company
Insurance policies often come with free legal help as part of the package. So it might be worth digging out your household and other insurance paperwork and see what is included.
Although strictly speaking it is not ‘free’ as you have paid for the policy, you should not have to pay any more for the advice service – so why not use it?
Union members have access to all sorts of free or budget priced services.
Generally, the legal advice is angled towards employment issues, but there is no harm in seeing if there is access to legal advice for housing problems.
Law works is a legal ‘pro bono’ (posh word for free) organisation which coordinates the provision of free legal work by lawyers for suitable cases.
The website is also a good way to find out about other local legal advice services which are not law centres. For example in Norwich where I live there is a legal charity (the Norfolk Community Law Service & Legal Advice Clinics) which I see is listed on this page.
All in all, the website is a very good place to go if you have a legal issue and need professional help.
This is not strictly speaking somewhere you can go to for advice – but it may be somewhere you can get help. Or to use the proper term – redress.
If you have a complaint about your letting agent or property manager, from October 2014 (or possibly April 2015) you will be able to bring a complaint to one of the three government authorised Property Redress Services.
All letting agents and property managers will be required to belong to one of these by law – although no doubt like the tenancy deposit regime, it will take a while for this to actually happen.
The three organisations are:
Many letting agents are already a member of one of these so its worth checking out.
Note also that if your landlord or agent is a member of a professional organisation such as ARLA, RICS or one of the landlord associations, you may be able to bring a complaint to them.
No win no fee services
Tenant Compensation offers a no win no fee service for tenants wanting to claim against landlords for failing to protect their deposit.
Government Online Information
The Government now publishes two guides for tenants to help them:
- How to rent NB this booklet must be given free of charge to all tenants by their landlord
- How to rent a safe home
Housing Law Blogs & websites:
Landlord Law Blog
Questions are answered in order of receipt, and as there are a lot of them, answers will not normally be published until several months after the question has been sent (although paid for fast track questions will normally be answered within 48 hours).
However, if you take a look at the past posts you may find a question which is similar to yours.
That is the site you are on now. We are not really a blog but we do try to offer some services to tenants (such as this page!). Free services include our Tenant E-Course and the Tenants Rights section.
The blog is currently written by a team of solicitors and barristers and is very well respected. Most of the posts are written probably more with a professional audience in mind, and they can be a bit technical, but the site is a wonderful online resource.
Particularly if you want to know something about a recent housing law case.
Anthony Gold Legal Insights
Since the Anthony Gold site upgrade this has become a bit harder to find. You need to go to the Legal Insights section and click on one of the property categories
Anthony Gold do quite a lot of landlord & tenant litigation (frequently representing the tenants) so are often able to write from the point of view of the solicitor in the case – which is always worth reading.
Property 118 is neither a lawyer’s website nor strictly speaking a tenants site. It was set up by property investor and landlord Mark Alexander a few years ago as a site for private landlords.
However, it is a good place to post your question and get answers from readers – many of whom understand this area of law pretty well. A few housing lawyers also comment there from time to time.
Quite a few tenants have posted questions there and got some very good advice.
There are lots of property forums around, ranging from landlord forums such as Property Tribes (where occasionally tenants venture in) to Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert which has a big section on rented property.
Another forum is the LandlordZONE forum, and there are several others.
Get Rent Back
This is a website which has guidance on how to get a Rent Repayment Order, for example, if your property is a licensable HMO but your landlord has failed to obtain a license.
The guidance page is here. It also looks as if you can instruct them on a paid basis.
Paid for Services
If you have a claim and are not eligible for any of the free services above, then solicitors are your obvious choice.
As stated in the item above on solicitors, it is important that you choose a solicitor who understands this area of law. There is, largely as a result of legal aid cuts, rather a shortage of experienced housing solicitors but there are some good firms. For example Anthony Gold.
If you have to pay legal fees, some people are able to raise the money, particularly if their case is of national importance or interest, via a crowdfunding site such as crowdjustice.
Advice4Renters used to be called the Brent Private Tenants Rights Group. They now offer a low cost and legal aid advice for tenants.
If you are aware of any good tenant services which ought to be listed here, please let us knw.