Legal advice by not-for-profit agencies
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.
- 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.