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MoJ evaluation reveals advice sector struggles

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(11 April 2023)

Legal advice agencies are struggling to meet client demand and finding it harder to recruit staff, the evaluation of a government grant to keep the sector afloat has revealed.

A £2.2m sector sustainability grant announced by the Ministry of Justice in August 2021 supported 66 not-for-profit legal advice organisations between April 2021 and March 2022.

According to an evaluation published by the ministry, recipients spent 80% of their grants on staff costs.

One recipient said: ‘I want to reiterate how vital this finding is for us. In recent years, more than a quarter of our funding has come from housing legal aid which remains very hard to come by at present as the number of eligible cases coming to court remains quite low. At the same time, from meetings with the Homeless Strategic Group of the local council, DWP, housing associations etc, I have gathered that issues with welfare, benefits, debt and eventually housing will increase over the winter. Therefore, without this funding, it is hard to see how we would have kept going and have a service on the road, ready to respond, as we do today.’

However, recipients are struggling to recruit enough staff to meet client demand.

One recipient received 200-250 calls a week pre-pandemic, which jumped to 400 calls a week in June 2021. A year later, the organisation was getting 600 calls a week.

‘At the moment, 55-66% of the client need is being met,’ the recipient said. ‘There has been a lot of pressure to work face-to-face and we have now opened up eight main services which we have to maintain with phones and webchats. Filling posts to meet this demand is however getting harder. Training mechanisms are not there. People coming out of university with law degrees are going to be barristers, not work for charities for £23,000 a year…and volunteers are not a long-term solution.’

More cash to support the sector was announced on Thursday.

The ministry said its Help Accessing Legal Support Grant, originally worth £3.2m to support organisations between October 2022 and March 2023, received an extra £1.6m to boost services until June. The £10.4 Improving Outcomes Through Legal Support Grant, which is being facilitated by the Access to Justice Foundation, will run from July 2023 until March 2025.

Justice minister Lord Bellamy said: ‘Legal support and advice should always be available for those who need it and I’m grateful to those who adapted so well during the pandemic to continue delivering for the public. Our £2m grant supported over 60 organisations to sustain services and implement virtual as well in-person meetings at a time of increased demand. We are injecting a further £12m into the sector over the next two years through additional grants to help thousands more people get access to early legal help.’

(Courtesy: The Lawe Society Gazette)