Vulnerability relates to a range of individual risk factors that are associated with personal characteristics (including physical and mental ability, language skills and financial constraints) and situational factors (which reflect the dynamic nature of vulnerability). The Legal Services Consumer Panel applied this to legal services in the 2014 guide for legal services regulators. This draws on BSI 18477 (2010) Inclusive service provision: Requirements for identifying and responding to consumer vulnerability.
Risks can be particularly acute in legal services where people often need legal help specifically because of their personal characteristics. The actions of providers can also increase this vulnerability. These risks can result in consumers not receiving the legal services they need.
Some valuable research has been carried out already, for example in relation to:
- quality of legal advice for asylum seekers
- what happens when people with learning difficulties access the law
- engaging legal services when you do not hear.
- client care letters
- experiences of consumers with family law needs
However, the breadth of possible vulnerabilities that consumers may experience means that there are knowledge gaps and opportunities to achieve better outcomes for these individuals, those assisting them and the different participants in the legal sector.
The LSB commissioned Research Works to conduct in-depth interviews with individuals with mental health problems and those with dementia (and those caring for them) to improve our understanding of how these consumers experience legal services.
The research findings, which were published in July 2017, found that small changes by legal services providers in the way they deliver services can make a big difference for these vulnerable groups. In particular, a safe space in which people feel comfortable to volunteer information or be sensitively asked about their needs is important.
The research reports on mental health and dementia were accompanied by two animations designed to bring the findings to life. Separate tip sheets for consumers were also produced.
The research findings were launched at a stakeholder roundtable event which included speakers from the Alzheimer’s Society, Bar Standards Board and Solicitors for the Elderly.
We have also produced a note on existing research on consumer vulnerability, looking at the two client groups in question, but also vulnerability more generally. This is intended as a useful reference resource for others to use.
Links to the research and related documents can be found here:
We will continue to explore opportunities to raise awareness of the research and to help consumers and practitioners benefit from it.
The research will help to inform our assessment of performance by the regulators and also our work over the next strategy period.
This work may also help to inform our position on the regulation of special bodies (with rights under section 23 of the Legal Services Act 2007), which are likely to be among suppliers of services to vulnerable consumers.
If you would like to discuss this project please contact Regulatory Project Manager Bryony Sheldon at firstname.lastname@example.org.