Care home residents denied legal aid – by typing error

Care home work of campaigning solicitor put at risk by licensing authority's ruling

Andy McSmith
Monday 31 January 2011 01:00

A solicitor who has battled for years on behalf of disabled and elderly residents of care homes has been told she will get no legal aid work in the coming year – because of a typing error.

It means that her practice must choose between working for no money, finding other solicitors to take on its casework, or abandoning clients who are not able to defend themselves at a time when local councils are planning huge government-imposed cutbacks.

Yvonne Hossack has earned widespread recognition from campaign bodies such as Age Concern and Help the Age, while at the same time angering local councils, which tried to have her struck off two years ago.

The latest blow to her practice came in a letter from the Legal Services Commission, telling her that every one of her applications for legal aid contracts, which it administers, had been denied. The refusal has triggered suspicion that the authorities have found a new way to rid themselves of a campaigner who has created endless trouble for councils seeking to save money.

Ms Hossack has requested an interview with the commission, with a warning that cutting her firm off from legal aid is an attack on the rights of care home residents.

"We act for the most profoundly disabled people, from children to centenarians, [visiting] our clients in their own homes. There are very few solicitors providing such a service and certainly not enough to service the needs," she says in her letter. "It is in the public domain that some of our clients have been saved from suicide by having me as their solicitor. Many are at extreme risk of death from matters happening to them right now that are being litigated."

Ms Hossack is credited with saving at least 80 care homes from closure, but her unorthodox methods provoked Northamptonshire, Hull and Staffordshire councils to bring a case against her in an attempt to have her struck off. At a hearing in September 2009, Ms Hossack was cleared of professional misconduct. Alan Johnson, then the Home Secretary, was among the witnesses supporting her.

Chris Kinsey, from Kettering, whose daughter is disabled, said: "I just knew that if they couldn't get her one way, they would find another."

Lynne Scully, who runs the Medicall private nursing home in Manchester, said: "I have observed Yvonne Hossack talking to children with complex needs and severe communication problems. [She] is caring and compassionate and understands the process. I am sure there is politics at work. Yvonne gets over one obstacle and another is placed in her way."

Sources at the Ministry of Justice confirmed that Ms Hossack's applications for legal aid contracts had been turned down because of a typing error. Applications have to specify the area in which the applicant is practising, but the specialised nature of Ms Hossack's work means that she represent clients from all over Britain.

She submitted 125 applications. because of an error in her office the word "Wiltshire" appeared on all of them, which was the ground on which 124 were rejected. The 125th, which covered Wiltshire, was refused because her office is in Northamptonshire.

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