Vulnerable consumers need more cost options and 'jargon-free' legal services
LSB research first step towards improving outcomes for people with mental health problems or dementia
Vulnerable consumers suffering from mental health problems or dementia would benefit from legal services that offer “jargon-free” advice and greater cost transparency, new research commissioned by the Legal Services Board has found.
Sixty individuals with mental health problems or dementia – and those caring for them – were interviewed about their experience of legal services to help the LSB identify what can be done to improve accessibility, service experience, and outcomes for vulnerable consumers.
While many respondents believed their legal needs were being met, they wanted advisers to give them more information about costs and use plain English to communicate legal issues.
Neil Buckley, LSB chief executive, said: “Sometimes small actions can make a big difference to consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable. When providers take simple practical steps this can make a big difference to the consumer experience. Consumers can help too, for example, by telling their lawyer if there are things they could do that would help make things easier for them.”
Of the thirty individuals with mental health problems or their carers, many sought free advice from third sector organisations or from regulated providers. The most common types of legal issue they encountered were in wills, probate, and trusts (11), property (6), and welfare and benefits (5).
Individuals were anxious about using legal services for several reasons: apprehension about the likely total cost, not being able to understand legal ‘jargon’ and technical legal language, and a sense of feeling intimidated by legal professionals.
Where mental health problems created relatively low-level difficulties when accessing legal services, respondents felt satisfied if they had been heard and treated with empathy and given opportunities to enhance their understanding of the legal information (e.g. given more time, provided with repeated explanations, and offered advice in plain English).
Moreover, they suggested that being actively engaged by a professional and feeling listened to and understood would help them in the future. Continuity of personnel was also valued.
Of the thirty respondents with dementia or their carers, the majority sought advice from a solicitor, although some had used the online application service for lasting power of attorney and received advice from third sector organisations. The most common types of legal issue they faced were power of attorney (14), wills, probate, and trusts (11), and property (6).
Those in the early stage felt they needed additional communication from legal services providers due to feeling slower and less successful at processing and retaining information.
While individuals with later stage dementia were vulnerable due to confusion and memory loss, their carers also felt uneasy due to their age, a lack of experience of using legal services, and mental health problems.
Many felt more could be done to communicate legal issues in plain English as well as providing plain English written information and after face-to-face consultations. Some complained about affordability, particularly the cost of a solicitor when completing applications for lasting power of attorney.
To improve accessibility, respondents broadly suggested that a legal service should offer “jargon-free” advice, promote “dementia friendly” services, and transparency about costs – particularly the cost options when applying for lasting power of attorney.
Solicitors for the Elderly welcomed the report’s findings. Chair David Sinclair, managing partner at Acorn, said: “Our accreditation is designed to ensure professionals have a wealth of experience and training to help put older and vulnerable people at ease when dealing with complex legal issues, and we encourage any increased awareness and improvement of accessibility for these consumers.”
Matthew Rogers is a reporter at Solicitors Journal