Covid dashboard gives clearest picture yet of pandemic’s impact on legal services – February 2021 update


Since June 2020, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has been tracking multiple data sources to provide the clearest picture we can of the impact of Covid-19 on legal services. Our Covid-19 research dashboard indicates the effect on demand for different legal services and the health of the market in England and Wales.

England and Wales both entered a third national lockdown on 5 January 2021, which continues to be in place. The first nationwide lockdown started at the end of March 2020 and restrictions lasted until July 2020.

As we explain in our State of Legal Services 2020 report, the pandemic has created challenges for both the profession and people who need legal services. However, some parts of the sector have seen an increased demand for services, and the enforced changes to working practices have created opportunities to rethink how services are delivered in the longer-term. We hope regulators, legal services providers, policymakers and others will use the data collected through the dashboard to support our efforts to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society.

Recent updates to the dashboard include additional indicators relating to divorce applications and referrals to the National Centre for Domestic Violence.

One metric that remains missing from the dashboard is the impact of the pandemic on the number of practitioners and firms across England and Wales. We are now gathering this data as most regulators have now completed their practising certificate renewal processes.

We have provided a summary of the latest trends from our dashboard below.  Figures are rounded to the nearest 100.

Family

  • Divorce applications received by HM Courts & Tribunals Service in November 2020 increased by 16% to 11,700 compared to 10,000 in November 2019. However, there were significant fluctuations within the 12 months. Between April 2020 and July 2020 applications increased by 93% but dipped in August 2020 to below 2019 levels. This summer peak may indicate a reticence to issue proceedings during the first national lockdown with a subsequent spike showing that pent-up need. Applications increased again by 46% between August and October 2020.
  • Referrals to the National Centre for Domestic Violence increased by 13% to 7,500 in December 2020 compared to 6,700 in December 2019. However, there were significant fluctuations within the 12 months. There was a 23% increase between April 2020 and July 2020, followed by a downward trend between August and November 2020.

Housing:

  • There were 303,000 conveyancing applications to the Land Registry in December 2020 – this was 14% lower compared to December 2019, when 354,000 applications were made. There were significant fluctuations in 2020. Conveyancing numbers in every month from March 2020 have been lower than the same month in 2019. Between January 2020 and April 2020 applications fell by 87% before partially recovering between April and July 2020.
  • We are yet to see any significant data around housing possession claims. The formal stay was lifted in September 2020.
  • The government extended a ban on evictions at the beginning of the third lockdown for all but the most egregious cases. This ban is currently in place until 21 February.

Employment, welfare and benefits:

  • The most frequent issues taken to Citizens Advice in January 2021 were:
    • Benefits & tax credits – 72,800 (21% lower than January 2020)
    • Benefits – Universal Credit – 462800 (16% lower than January 2020)
    • Debt – 57,000 (63% lower than January 2020)
  • Comparing January 2021 to January 2020, the top four areas where Citizens Advice observed the largest increases were:
    • Utilities & Communications (29% higher than January 2020)
    • ‘Other’ including queries about foodbanks (28% higher than in January 2020)
    • Consumer goods and services (1% higher than January 2020)
    • Employment (4% higher than January 2020)
    • Financial services and capability (4% higher than January 2020)
  • Contacts to the debt charity Step Change have been since March 2020 compared to the 12 months prior, including 39% lower in December 2020 compared to December 2019– .This could reflect the fact that the government has extended financial support measures. But at the same time, enquiries about food banks, employment, financial services/capability and starts to universal credit have all increased. This could indicate looming debt issues.
  • Starts to Universal Credit in October 2020 were 14% higher than in October 2019 (216,300 v 189,000). However, this is a fraction of the record 1.2 million starts in April 2020. This was a 520% increase on the 197,400 starts in April 2019.
  • Between November 2019 and November 2020, employment tribunal receipts increased by 26% from 3,800 to 4,800.
  • The number of employment issues taken to Citizens Advice each month, since March 2020 has been higher than the same month a year prior. January 2021 was only 4% higher than January 2020. However, in every month from March to December there have been between 16% and 115% more employment issues. The furlough scheme’s extension may mean that some employers have not made redundancies, which may follow once the scheme ends, leading to future increases in employment issues taken to Citizens Advice.

Crime:

  • Outstanding criminal cases at the Crown courts increased by 48% from 36,400 in November 2019 to 54,000 in November 2020.
  • Outstanding criminal cases at the Magistrate courts increased by 34% from 301,500 in November 2019 to 403,600 in November 2020.
  • Antisocial behaviour crime reports have increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
  • There were 130,100 antisocial behaviour crime reports in November 2020. This was a 45% increase compared to November 2019 when there were 89,600 reports.
  • Since April 2020, the number of antisocial behaviour reports has been significantly above the respective months in 2019. At the peak in April 2020, there were 227,900 reports, 92% higher than the 118,800 reports made in April 2019.

Injury:

  • 40,200 injury claims were submitted to the Personal Injury Claims Portal in December 2020 – 30% fewer than in December 2019 when 57,100 claims were made. Since April 2020, each month’s claims figures have been lower compared to the same month in 2019.

Wills, trusts and probate:           

  • There were 61,600 lasting power of attorney registrations in November 2020. This was 14% down compared to November 2019 when there were 71,900 registrations. Over 2020 there is no clear pattern shown, though between January 2020 and May 2020 registrations fell by 66% from 85,500 to 28,900.
  • The number of deaths registered each month in England and Wales fluctuated during 2020. There were 56,600 deaths registered in December 2020, this was 19% up compared to December 2019 (47,400), between February 2020 and April 2020 deaths registered increased by 102% from 43,500 to 88,000.

We are continuing to update the dashboard monthly. Other metrics will be added when we can access data that evidences any impact, or lack thereof, on the supply side of the market.