The future of a vital free legal service that helps tenants is in jeopardy because solicitor that runs it is preparing to retire.

Wiltshire Law Centre free housing law advice to tenants in difficulties, both in Swindon as well as the whole of Wiltshire and its workload has gone up since the introduction of Universal Credit.

But now the service is facing an uncertain future because it has struggled to recruit a new lawyer.

“We just can’t attract anyone who wants to work for that salary,” said Richard Hazell, the senior solicitor at the centre.

If a replacement is not found the service will have to fold, and thousands of people will miss out on legal representation and advice.

“It would be a tragedy if this closed,” said Richard who specialises in housing law and is one of the original founding members of the centre 37 years ago.

“It would prevent local people from having access to justice in an area of law where expertise is not available elsewhere.”

Based at Sanford House, the law centre offers free and confidential legal advice and representation in relation to housing law and tenancies, welfare benefits, employment and debt.

Richard and his team help an estimated 2,500 people every year, mainly with telephone enquiries, as well as working on cases.

“It’s going to have a really big impact if we can’t find a replacement,” he said.

“The problem is that the law centre is funded by the Legal Aid Agency. It’s very hard to recruit solicitors at their rate of pay, because no solicitor wants to work for that,” he added.

A newly qualified solicitor working in a south west private law firm can earn over £50,000 in their first year. By contrast this vacancy is being advertised for approximately £30,000.

“Law centres all over the country are finding they cannot attract solicitors anymore.

“Housing lawyers are a dying breed,” he said. “But the demand for our services is still going to be there. If anything since universal credit was introduced, it’s gone up.

“People will have to rely on the highly over stretched and under foundered resources of the CAB for advice instead,” he added.

The centre is attempting to recruit a replacement solicitor, as well as an immigration solicitor but has not be successful in appointing anyone in the past. It’s a shame because it’s wonderful to be part of the voluntary sector,” said Richard.

“You’re working with the public, not a faceless corporation, and you’re making a real difference in people’s lives, educating people about their legal rights.”