MoJ: Targeted 'legal support' may help vulnerable people
Only one in ten respondents to government survey used a solicitor to resolve their dispute
Lone parents, the unemployed, and those households with a below average annual income are the most likely to experience multiple legal problems, according to the Ministry of Justice, which is considering the provision of legal support following introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
The ministry’s delayed Legal Problem and Resolution Survey 2014/15 revealed that one in three adults experienced at least one legal problem. Half of those experienced multiple legal issues.
Of those who experienced multiple problems, adults living in a household with dependent children (42 per cent) came out top, followed by the unemployed (39 per cent), those on state benefits (39 per cent), people in socially rented accommodation (37 per cent), those with a longstanding disability or illness (32 per cent), and people living in low-income households (31 per cent).
What’s more, people with household income of £60,000 or above were more likely (17 per cent) to obtain legal help compared to those with household income of less than £15,000 per year (7 per cent).
Forty-five per cent of people experienced one or more adverse consequence because of their problem(s), such as loss of income or financial strain (54 per cent), stress related illness or other mental health problem (47 per cent).
Overall, one-quarter of problems were perceived by a respondent to be very serious and one-third not very serious. Seventy per cent of adults who considered their problem to be very serious said they experienced an adverse consequence and were also more likely to give up on seeking a resolution.
The MoJ said the findings suggested that adults vulnerable to disadvantage are ‘more likely to experience problems, and so could benefit from some targeted support’. However, more work was needed to explore what support would be most useful.
Last week, justice minister Sir Oliver Heald told parliament that a green paper on ‘legal support’ would be published in 2018. ‘The reform programme will deliver a justice system that is more accessible to the public,’ he said and ‘aims to support people in resolving their disputes using simpler, modern procedures’.
The MoJ’s latest survey, published on 3 March, was the result of telephone interviews with 10,058 respondents between November 2014 and March 2015. It asked respondents about their experiences of problems or disputes in the preceding 18 months and how they went about finding a resolution.
The majority (96 per cent) of respondents did try to resolve their problem, although they varied in the action(s) they took. One in ten used a solicitor, while 7 per cent used Citizens Advice services.
Of the 39 per cent who used formal legal or other professional help, one in four used a solicitor, while Citizens Advice (18 per cent) and local council services (14 per cent) also featured prominently.
Further, of the 73 per cent who sourced their own help from the internet or friends and family, 40 per cent had also gained formal legal or other professional help too.
The sourcing of own information was high across all groups, although somewhat lower among those aged 75 or over (59 per cent), those with no educational qualifications (61 per cent), and those from BAME groups (66 per cent).
Conversely, while formal legal help was uncommon, it was relatively more common among 45 to 64 year olds (14 per cent), those in employment (13 per cent) and home-owners ( 15 per cent).
The ministry said the survey captured further data, such as public awareness of legal services, attitudes to the justice system and self-perception of legal capability, which had not been covered in its report. The data will be made available at a later date.
Matthew Rogers is a reporter at Solicitors Journal