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Early legal advice: MoJ report reveals pilot problems

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(10 May 2024)

An evaluation of the Ministry of Justice’s early legal advice pilot has laid bare the reasons for poor take-up by residents with housing, debt and welfare problems. However, the pilot’s value-for-money modelling suggests £1 spent on early legal advice would generate £4.10 in ‘public value benefit’.

In March, MoJ officials acknowledged they ‘failed fast’ with the Manchester and Middlesbrough pilot, which ended up helping three residents in Middlesbrough.

An evaluation report published yesterday reveals that the 20,415 letters sent to residents in council tax arrears may not have made sufficiently clear that their problems were legal in nature and may not have contained sufficient detail about the service being offered. 

Providers said they would need to spend significant time understanding the nature of the client’s issue, reading paperwork and sending client care letters, which would make the ‘three hours of free legal advice’ a potentially misleading offer.

However, in positive news, one pilot participant avoided eviction. Value-for-money modelling suggested £1 spent on early legal advice would generate £4.10 in ‘public value benefits’. 

The report said future evaluations ‘need to plan and agree on regular communications with potential and participating providers, to keep them informed of progress and maintain their confidence, throughout the planning and setup process’.

The report recommended further engagement with existing providers to help evaluation and programme delivery teams establish adequate referrals. ‘This would involve further work with advice providers to establish a programme they want to support, and highlight the importance of meaningful engagement with local providers to co-design programmes that fit well within the existing advice landscape,’ it said.

Law Society president Nick Emmerson said Chancery Lane was disappointed the pilot failed to provide results but welcomed the ‘thorough examination’ of the design and implementation problems, and identification of lessons learned. 

‘Building on the findings of this report, we hope the MoJ will continue its engagement with the legal and advice sectors to find effective ways to offer early advice under the civil legal aid scheme,’ he added.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)