Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Legal advice by not-for-profit agencies

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The impact of cuts to legal aid to the availability of legal advice from advice agencies is the subject of a new study commissioned and published by the Ministry of Justice. Interestingly, the study notes that this is the first time such a survey has been carried out – so it cannot actually answer the question of how many not-for-profit agencies have closed down.

What the researchers were able to do was gather information from over 700 agencies that are still in business, actively offering legal advice to individual clients.

Among the findings are the following which I think are worth noting here:

  • The majority of responding organisations (76%) provided advice on specific subjects, to specific client groups or in specific locations. Only 22% provided a wider range of ‘general’ advice services.
  • Most organisations were well established; 83% reported that they had been providing legal advice for more than ten years. There was also evidence of new organisations emerging as nine percent had entered the sector within the last five years (however this is likely to also include some formed through mergers of pre-existing organisations).
  • The use of digital services over and above email was limited, with only 10% offering online services such as Skype or live chat and just 8% reported offering web-based automated programmes with no advisor input.
  • The categories of law in which advice provision was most commonly offered by responding organisations – welfare benefits, debt and housing – are areas that have largely or partly been removed from legal aid scope under LASPO.
Clients
  • Forty-five percent of organisations reported offering a ‘client-specific’ advice service, of these, the most common client groups were women and older people.
  • Just over half of the responding organisations (51%) reported there were some client or problem types they had been unable to help with in the current financial year.
  • Of these, 62% reported that this was due to a lack of resource, 49% reported that problems fell outside of their remit, and 47% reported not having the appropriate expertise within the organisation.
The overall findings show that while some organisations have seen decreases in funding, client numbers and their workforce since 2013/14, roughly equal proportions of responding organisations have experienced growth in these areas. Changes to the NfP landscape have clearly presented challenges to the sector, with over half of responding organisations reporting that they have made major changes since April 2013 and a substantial proportion expecting to make changes going forward to maintain the stability of service provision.
I think these are interesting results.
1 Clearly there remains a significant appetite from those keen to offer advice services to stay in business and – where possible – to expand their service provision.
2 I am surprised at the lack of investment in IT for the delivery of advice services. I think this is an issue that should be examined further.
3 Now that this baseline data have been assembled it is important that there are regular follow up studies so that we can get a better idea of how this segment of the legal services market is changing.
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Written by lwtmp

December 18, 2015 at 4:56 pm

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