Consumer data reveals mixed picture of legal services during Covid crisis


The Legal Services Board (LSB) has drawn together multiple sources of data to provide the clearest picture we can of the impact of Covid-19 on legal services. The LSB’s Covid-19 research dashboard shows that while there is a surge of demand in some areas such as employment advice, in other areas such as money and finance, consumers are putting off getting legal help. There is also a fall in registrations for power of attorney, at a time when you would expect end of life plans to be at the forefront of people’s minds. The reduction in registrations may reflect a reduced capacity of legal service providers to draft and submit applications during this time.

The pandemic is creating immediate and long-term risks for access to justice and the interests of consumers, as well as diversity in the profession. It is also creating a unique opportunity to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society in the longer-term. Bringing together a wide range of data sources to demonstrate the real impact that the pandemic is having should help to guide and inform everyone’s efforts to better meet consumers’ legal needs now and in the future.

Employment

The number of people turning to Citizens Advice with employment issues has increased by 67% from 21,480 in May 2019 to 35,914 in May 2020. This is a 55% increase from February 2020, the month before lockdown measures were implemented in the UK, when 23,240 people sought employment advice. This shows the extent to which people need work-related advice and support during the pandemic.

The number of cases at employment tribunal has increased over the year from April 2019 (3,024) to April 2020 (3,996), by 32%. Once furlough arrangements start to taper and as employers implement workforce changes and make people redundant, the LSB expects there will be a further increase in the number of people making claims to employment tribunals. So, it is vital that consumers can access the legal services they need.

Debt advice

In May 2020, debt advice charity Step Change had 59% fewer client contacts compared to April 2019, falling from 24,447 contacts to 10,013.

This decline suggests consumers are putting off seeking advice for finance issues. Consequently, when payment holidays end and any household reserves are depleted, there could be a surge in demand which will require adequate provision of providers to meet this.  It is important that people who need advice and support know where and how to get it.

Power of attorney, wills, and probate

The number of powers of attorney registrations with the Office of the Public Guardian has declined dramatically. It fell by 37%, from 67,733 in April 2020 to 42,882 in April 2019. This is a fall of 53% from February 2020, the month before lockdown measures were implemented in the UK, when 77,217 powers of attorney were registered.

The number of people seeking advice from Citizens Advice on wills, trusts, and probate fell by 35% from 2,741 in January 2020 to 1,782 in April 2020.

Consequently, there could be thousands of people who are at increased risk of their wishes not being carried out in the event of illness or death. It is vital that people do not delay getting advice they need during the pandemic delay making important legal decisions. It is important that legal services are accessible and can adapt to consumer need. We also need to understand if consumers are struggling to find providers who are still active through the pandemic or if difficulties in executing wills or powers of attorneys during social distancing are contributing to this.

Consumers were already struggling to get legal advice pre-COVID

The LSB analysis above follows the recent publication of the largest survey of legal needs in England and Wales. Published before lockdown measures were implemented in the UK, the survey shows that significant numbers of people do not know where to turn for professional legal advice.

  • 36% of people did not feel confident that they could achieve a fair and positive outcome when faced with a legal problem
  • Over 1 in 3 (36%) of people turned to friends and family when they need legal advice
  • 1 in 5 (22%) people turned to a solicitor
  • 1 in seven (14%) people turned to their doctor for legal advices.
  • 1 in 14 (7%) turned to Citizens Advice Bureau.

This provides an important backdrop to the specific issues raised by COVID and highlights the need to seize the opportunities presented to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of consumers.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Service Board, said:

“We already knew that Covid-19 is having a significant impact on people’s lives, but this analysis brings home not only the extent of the problems people are facing today but the range of challenges that will follow in the weeks and months ahead. In some areas of legal services there is an increase in demand while in other areas it appears that people are putting off seeking advice. It is important that the consumer interest is not threatened by delays within the legal system or by people simply not taking the action they need to.

“Even without Covid-19 to contend with, too many people do not know their legal rights and responsibilities, with many turning to their doctors or friends at times of need. Access to justice is a cornerstone of our society and it’s vital that everyone who needs legal help and advice can get it.

“We are also closely monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on diversity. We share concerns already voiced by Business in the Community and the Mayor of London about BAME groups being disproportionately affected by furlough. We also know that Covid-19 is hitting BAME communities harder and this may translate into an increased demand for legal services.

“Legal regulators and services providers are encouraged to make use of this data to inform their recovery plans. As the legal services sector recovers, there must be an increased focused on consumer protections.  We must seize the opportunity for a strategic reshaping of legal services to better meet the needs of all consumers.”

The dashboard shows the unprecedented and rapid shock to the market that COVID has caused, with rapid and significant changes in consumer activity. The next step will be to develop the dashboard to demonstrate how the pandemic has impacted the supply side of the market and how it is reacting to the shifts in consumer activity.

People who need legal advice and support can visit the following websites:

  • Legal Choices – for free independent and information about legal issues and lawyers – legalchoices.org.uk
  • Citizens Advice – For free, independent advice – citizensadvice.org.uk
  • Step Change – For free, expert debt help and advice – stepchanging.co.uk

About the Legal Services Board

  • The Legal Services Board (LSB) oversees regulators of legal services in England and Wales.
  • The LSB oversees ten approved regulators, which in turn regulate individual legal practitioners. The approved regulators, designated under Part 1 of Schedule 4 of the 2007 Act, are the Law Society, the Bar Council, the Master of the Faculties, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, the Association of Costs Lawyers, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. In addition, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland is an approved regulator for probate activities only but does not currently authorise anyone to offer this service.

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