Vulnerable people - those living with a disability, as lone parents or on less than £15,000 a year - are more likely to experience multiple legal problems than others, according to a major government study slipped into the public domain a year late. The findings, published on Friday afternoon, point to a crisis in access to justice following legal aid reforms.
Publication of the findings of the Legal Problem Resolution Survey, originally promised in early 2016, follow the lord chancellor’s announcement that a green paper on legal support will be published next year.
The survey found that people most likely to experience four or or more legal problems were: adults with a limiting illness or disability, lone parents, adults with a household income of under £15,000 per year, those receiving means-tested state benefits and social renters.
At least four in 10 adults who had a legal problem experienced at least one 'adverse consequence'.
The most common consequences were stress or another mental health problem, loss of confidence, and loss of income or financial strain. At least one in 10 reported being physically ill.
People likely to report adverse consequences were those with: a family problem; administrative problems associated with employment and state benefits; and civil problems concerning injury or ill health arising from an accident or negligence.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which came into force in April 2013, removed legal aid from the majority of private family law matters.
The report states that around half of adults with a problem linked to a relationship breakdown reported stress-related illness or mental health issues, and loss of income or financial strain. Around four in 10 also reported loss of confidence, or some form of harassment, abuse or assault as a result of the problem.
Of those who received help from a law firm, only one in 10 said their help had been funded by legal aid. Around a quarter said that an insurance company paid, while 19% were funded by a ‘no win, no fee’ agreement. Around one in 10 cited a relative friend or employer for source of funding.
Four in 10 adults who paid for legal help paid £500 or less. Around three in 10 paid more than £1,000. Of those who received help from a law firm, a quarter paid £500 or less, and four in 10 paid over £1,000.
Around a quarter said an insurance company had paid their costs, 19% said costs were funded by a ‘no win, no fee’ agreement, 11% said a relative, friend or employer had paid.
The report concludes that adults vulnerable to disadvantage are more likely to experience problems and could potentially benefit from some ’targeted support’.
’More work is however needed to explore what support would be most useful, as the findings did not illuminate what works best in helping adults to successfully resolve their legal problems, with little variation by the resolution strategies or advice obtained.’
The findings are based on 10,058 telephone interviews conducted between November 2014 and March 2015. MoJ permanent secretary Richard Heaton told the justice select committee in November 2015 that initial findings from the survey were expected to be available in ‘early 2016’.