MPs welcome SSB victims to Parliament as campaign steps up

SSB meeting: Imran Hussain MP with Debra Sofia Magdalene

Eight MPs met with victims of defunct Sheffield law firm SSB Group this week as pressure on both the government and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) ramped up.

The meeting at the Houses of Parliament heard calls from former clients of the firm to ban the term ‘no win, no fee’ and make legal expenses insurance mandatory.

SSB went into administration in January owing six litigation funders £200m. Its indebtedness has since risen to £221m and the Legal Services Board is probing the SRA’s actions in the lead-up to the collapse of group.

The focus of the story is on failed claims over the defective installation of cavity wall insulation that SSB ran where the after-the-event insurance it put in place is being repudiated, leading to successful defendants and their insurers seeking to enforce substantial costs awards against clients.

MPs heard stories of the impact of the adverse costs orders, include the recent death of Ian Lofthouse, whose family blame the stress of facing a bill for the steep decline in his health before he died earlier this month at the age of 74.

There were other stories of the misery caused by damage to homes and living in mouldy properties.

One of those who travelled to Westminster was Debra Sofia Magdalene, administrator of the SSB Victims Support Group.

She told Legal Futures: “Attending the meeting with MPs allowed victims to directly express how SSB’s negligence and faulty cavity wall insulation have severely impacted their mental and physical health, and to share pictures of the awful damp and mould which has ruined their homes.

“We presented case studies that highlighted various issues, emphasising the urgency for immediate action rather than waiting for the SRA investigation, which won’t conclude until autumn and probably won’t tell us anything we don’t already know.”

She said the group proposed two main solutions. The first was legislation “to prevent industries from exploiting homeowners and government grant schemes”. This included banning “the misleading term” ‘no win, no fee’ in legal claims and making legal expenses insurance mandatory.

Second was immediate support for victims. Ms Magdalene explained: “We urged justice and immediate assistance for affected individuals. This includes restoring homes to their original condition, helping with legal debts, and launching a government investigation into claims management companies and the SRA’s oversight.”

She said the MPs shared their disappointment that no ministers attended the meeting and agreed that the next step was for them to meet victims.

“This issue spans multiple departments, and it’s crucial for the government to take unified action,” she added.

David Wingate, a partner at Manchester firm WE Solicitors, is at the forefront of acting for former SSB clients and was at the meeting.

He said: “It was very clear that MPs are extremely concerned by what they have heard from the SSB Victim Support Group. They are keen to help in pushing for a resolution to the adverse costs claims and as to what can be done to repair homes that have been damaged by cavity wall insultation.

“On a wider note, they also want to ensure that any future green homes initiatives are administered properly and better protection for consumers entering into conditional fee agreements are put in place.”

In all, there were eight MPs and representatives of three more present at the meeting. Bradford East MP Imran Hussain tweeted that they were making five demands on ministers, starting with meeting affected people and ensuring the outstanding fees are not enforced against them.

Next, ministers should investigate the conduct of cavity wall installation companies using government grants, “legal firms pushing people into no-win no-fee cases, and action (or inaction) of regulatory bodies”.

Finally, they should offer full compensation to residents living in “damp, mouldy, and unfit homes, to extract insulation causing massive structural and health issues”, and “bake in legal protections and opportunities for redress for consumers as home retrofit schemes grow in the goal to reach net zero”.

Both Mr Hussain and Bradford South MP Judith Cummins raised SSB with Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk during justice questions in the House of Commons earlier this week.

Ms Cummins asked what steps he was taking “to ensure that the Solicitors Regulation Authority has the necessary powers to provide my constituents with the protection, compensation and justice that they deserve”, while Mr Hussain asked him to meet with constituents.

Mr Chalk promised to write to both.

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