Regulator reports big fall in availability of free legal services
Marc Bloomfield
Research from the overall regulator of legal service providers shows a big drop in the availability of free services for the public.
The results of the Tracker Survey 2019 were published on 30 July. The survey was conducted for the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP), an independent arm of the Legal Services Board (LSB, which oversees the regulators of the legal professions including The Law Society, The Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives). It found that the availability of free services for legal advice has dropped by over half. In 2012, 24 per cent of consumers had reported that they had used a free legal service to help them with their problem; in the latest survey, this had fallen to 11 per cent (‘The legal services market is failing to support consumer engagement and low income consumers accessing justice’, LSCP press release, 30 July 2019).
The Tracker Survey, conducted on the LSCP’s behalf by YouGov, is an annual survey in which participants are asked about legal services that they have used over the previous two years. Fieldwork for the latest survey was undertaken in February and March this year.
The research also found that there had been a big change in the ways legal services were paid for. According to the research, 72 per cent of consumers reported paying privately for legal services, as opposed to 56 per cent who had done so in the 2012 research (Tracker Survey 2019 – briefing note: how consumers are using legal services, page 5). There were big drops in other payment methods. For example, legal aid was down from five per cent in 2012 to three per cent in 2019, and trade union-funded cases fell from six per cent to one per cent in the same period.
‘This research reinforces what we already know from the experience of practitioners on the ground,’ said Carol Storer, interim director of LAG. ‘Legal aid services are becoming scarce and cuts in other public funding have led to fewer charities providing free legal advice. People who cannot afford to pay for legal advice increasingly have nowhere left to turn.’
The LSCP also reported a significant rise in the number of consumers turning to internet-based services. According to the research, the proportion of participants who reported using such services had increased from 21 per cent in 2011 to 33 per cent in 2019 (Tracker Survey 2019 – briefing note: how consumers are using legal services, page 4).
Responding to the research, LSB chair, Dr Helen Phillips, said: ‘Technology is playing a greater role in the delivery of services to consumers and this will grow in the coming years, so we are looking at how we help regulators develop their approaches to regulating the use of technology. Promoting responsible technological innovation that earns the public’s trust will help to widen access to services and improve customer satisfaction’ (‘Legal Services Board responds to latest Consumer Panel findings’, LSB news item, 30 July 2019).

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A national, independent charity, promoting equal access to justice for all members of society who are socially, economically or otherwise...