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9 April, 2021 Open access

Legal Services Consumer Panel warns that advice deserts are likely to become more common as a result of Covid-19

Impact of funding cuts that have taken place over recent years has become even more obvious in this time of increased stress and unemployment

Advice deserts are likely to become more common as a result of Covid-19, the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) has warned.

Publishing its new Strategy for 2021-2024, the LSCP - an independent arm of the Legal Services Board established to provide evidence-based advice to help the Board to make decisions shaped around the needs of users – highlights that while legal services are not required on a regular basis by most people, when they are, they become critically important, although many people find services hard to access.

For example, the LSCP says that it knows that legal services can be unaffordable for a large part of the population, and that there is some evidence to suggest that Covid-19 has exacerbated this –

‘The free support that many people have relied on in the past has been impacted by the funding cuts which have taken place over some years, but with an impact that has become even more obvious in this time of increased stress and unemployment.’

As a result, the LSCP says that advice deserts, where there is little or no supply of services of a particular kind, are likely to become more common and many vulnerable consumers will have nowhere to turn to for legal advice when they need it.

As a result, the LSCP says a collective response and reaction to the immediate aftermath of Covid-19 is needed, as well as steady work towards the longer-term goal of closing the access gap. The response must involve dialogue with government, and also a partnership with frontline advice providers, those who understand in these critical times where the gaps in access are causing most detriment, the LSCP adds.

Sarah Chambers, Chair of the LSCP said –

‘The only sensible response is for all parts of the sector to collaborate together to seek to overcome them. There is huge unmet legal need, but also a growing number of qualified lawyers who cannot find a job, or have lost their job during the pandemic. New technology is presenting opportunities to deliver some legal services more efficiently, and hopefully at lower cost, than has been possible in the past. Can we collectively find a way to put the pieces of the jigsaw together in a way which will serve the needs not just of the most advantaged, but also of those with few resources, or on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’?

NB – the LSCP also says that there is no conclusive evidence to show that consumers who use unregulated legal services achieve a worse outcome than those who use regulated providers, although it expresses concern that consumers who use unregulated providers do not have access to redress, and are often unaware of the differences between regulated and unregulated providers. As a result, it says that it would fully support the development of a register for unregulated providers, with access to redress for those who use them.

For more information, see Consumer Panel publishes new strategy.