'Insolvency rules helping those with money – not the poor'
THE Free Legal Advice Centres says it is "frustrating" that Ireland's new personal insolvency regime is "serving those with money better than the poor" it was aimed at helping.
The FLAC has also raised concerns over the country's unregulated debt collectors and a lack of State-funded legal advice for vulnerable debtors negotiating with "powerful, well-resourced" banks.
Calls to the FLAC's national telephone information line rose 10pc last year, according to its annual report launched today by the Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham.
More than 27,500 people were assisted by the agency's dedicated telephone team and 500-strong volunteer corps of barristers and solicitors last year, an increase of some 6.2pc over the same figures in 2012.
Although family law queries count for one-in-five calls, FLAC says there has been an increase in queries in certain areas including credit and debt calls, which are up by almost 10pc.
Neighbour dispute calls have surged by 56pc; with housing and landlord/tenant relate calls up by a massive 83.5pc. Similar increases have been recorded at FLAC's legal advice centres, which operate in 81 venues throughout the country.
FLAC said that the Government needs to strengthen legal aid as demand for State-funded legal services increases.
The Legal Aid Board (LAB), the State's civil legal aid service, is only available to those with a disposable income of less than €18,000. But even those who pass the means test can wait for up to a year before seeing a State funded lawyer.
Last year, there were 5,250 people on LAB waiting lists to see a solicitor, compared to 3,870 in 2010 – with people in Laois, Donegal, Kildare and parts of Dublin waiting more than 20 months to see a solicitor.
"Clearly people need help with legal problems and they cannot afford to seek it out of their own resources," said Noeline Blackwell, Director General of the FLAC who has called for an ongoing review of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012.
Credit and debt law was the third largest inquiry in FLAC's centres and the second largest query on its phone line last year.
The non-governmental organisation (NGO) has repeatedly called for an independent, out-of-court debt system to adjudicate on debt issues.
FLAC gave a "cautious welcome" to the passage of Ireland's new personal insolvency regime, but says it remains concerned about what it says are "clear flaws in its design" including the creditor veto on insolvency proposals and the continued lack of adequate legal and financial advice for debtors dealing with "powerful, well resourced" financial institutions.
"People contacting FLAC are not being adequately served by current solutions," said Ms. Blackwell, adding that advice services are over-burdened.
"Debt must not be taken in isolation as it is entwined with other issues such as family, employment or health problems."