Shula Rich (left) a long-standing advisor on leasehold issues has criticised the Leasehold Advisory Service for setting up an out-of-hours advice line run by practising solicitors, who may also be hoping to tout for work.
Out-of-hours callers to LEASE can be put in contact with solicitors who are members of ALEP, the Association of Leasehold Enfranchisement Practitioners. The aim is to provide advice on enfranchisement and lease extensions. The service has been on offer since July.
But Shula, who has run a free leasehold advice centre in Brighton since 1996 and has represented the Federation of Private Residents Associations at Westminster events, says that LEASE is delivering leaseholders into “a den of cheque books”.
“LEASE should not be running this service,” she says. “I would be very wary if I called in the evening and was referred to a professional who earns his/ her living from leasehold problems.
“They, per se, have a conflict of interest. If LEASE continues with volunteer professionals, then it should be made clear to all callers that they are talking to a fee-earner.
“It is ridiculous to term this pro bono advice: the lawyers involved are looking for new business.”
“In the course of my work, I have received some excellent support, understanding and help from LEASE advisors. However these are the day-job people – whose job it is to give accurate info and advice.”
Shula runs the Brighton and Hove District Leaseholders Association, which is a drop-in centre charging an annual fee of £25. She provides no paid services apart from facilitating right to manage, which is “very worthwhile for most leaseholders”.
Referring to the paid-for LEASE “professional directory” – the subject of parliamentary scrutiny concerning managing agent Benjamin Mire – Shula said:
“I’m not on the LEASE list of professionals as I don’t agree with the list or those listed.”
Anthony Essien, LEASE chief executive, terms the ALEP lawyers as “volunteers [who] are providing professional and impartial advice on a pro bono basis”.
LKP does not doubt that ALEP involved itself in this initiative to assist leaseholders.
But we question whether the solicitors involved are strictly speaking “volunteers”, and wonder whether the “impartial advice” would extend to, say, considering the merits of using a different law firm to resolve an issue. To term this pro bono work may be stretching things.
It should be made clear to callers to LEASE that the lawyers taking part are also commercial practitioners in the sector.
Contrariwise, if it were considered acceptable for ALEP to provide this advice for free, does it not open up the question of whether there is any point to LEASE in the first place? If the professions are prepared to provide leasehold advice for free, why should taxpayers be paying for a quango?
In announcing the arrangement, Essien, said:
“We want to offer leaseholders with questions about enfranchisement and lease extensions free telephone advice that goes beyond the normal 9 to 5 offer, and for that reason we started this service with ALEP’s help.
“The volunteers are providing professional and impartial advice on a pro bono basis and I am delighted that JPC Law, Child and Child, Dean Wilson LLP, Penningtons Manches, Piper Smith Watton, Streathers and Wilson Barca, and Coles Miller have decided to volunteer their time and expertise and join Seddons, Bishop & Sewell, SA Law and Sykes Anderson in helping leaseholders solve their problems.
“I look forward to welcoming our new volunteers from ALEP at their induction into this service and its quality processes, and to seeing LEASE continue to develop and help more people.”
Mark Chick is a director of ALEP and a partner at Bishop & Sewell LLP, one of the participant firms. He was instrumental in setting up the scheme and commented:
“We are delighted that ALEP has been able to support LEASE in this way and is helping to provide complimentary out of hours assistance to flat owners, who might not otherwise be able to obtain initial advice in relation to enfranchisement issues.
“Our members have been keen to support this initiative, which has been in development over the last year and is now moving to its next phase. We look forward to working with LEASE to ensure the continued growth of this project.”