A government grant programme provided advice and support to 42,000 litigants in person (LiPs) over two years, showing the benefit of early advice, research has found.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) researchers said the volume of advice and support provided by the £3m legal support for litigants in person (LSLIP) programme hit a peak in January to March 2022, “which may relate to an increasing number of individuals seeking advice and support with rising energy bills due to the cost of living”.
The LSLIP, launched in April 2020, was based on the MoJ’s 2019 legal support action plan and was for two years, although various extensions made it a little longer. It was managed by the Access to Justice Foundation.
It funded 11 projects across England and Wales – eight local and regional organisationsand three national organisations: LawWorks, Support Through Court and RCJ Advice.
Between October 2020 and June 2022, eight local and regional grantees, such as law centres and Citizens Advice, provided advice and support to 33,000 clients on 36,000 legal issues.
In the two years to June 2022, the three national organisations supported – LawWorks, Support Through Court and RCJ Advice – advised 4,200 clients.
The funding also supported the delivery of other projects: Support Through Court’s national helpline, which gave information and guidance to around 4,400 clients, Law for Life’s Advicenow website, which had over 1.6m visitors; and Affordable Advice, which received 670 requests for an appointment with a solicitor from 450 clients.
Some 59% of LiPs who used one of the services resolved their problems without the need to go to court or tribunal. Across the programme, housing (26%) was the greatest focus of advice, followed by family (24%), employment (22%) and welfare benefits (14%). Nearly a third of clients had a disability.
There was “a marked increase” in the later stages in the volume of housing advice and a decline in employment advice, possibly due to the waning impact of the pandemic.
Vulnerable clients often had “multiple overlapping and complex issues” related to “poor mental health including depression, stress and anxiety as a result of losing a job or becoming homeless, family or relationship crises associated with being unable to visit or see children, and generally the day-to-day impact of being under financial strain”.
Nearly three-quarters of the advice provided locally or regionally was “initial generalist advice and support”.
Researchers said the “continued focus on early intervention” suggested that the grant “met its objective of increasing access to earlier advice”.
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of all clients were aged between 25 and 55, most were female (61%) and a large majority (92%) were white.
Following support from the programme, most LiPs (57%) had “increased confidence and ability to deal with their own problems” and 75% “made a positive self-assessment of the support received”.
Organisations providing the advice faced a wide range of challenges, from recruitment and retention, rising client demand due to the “lasting effects of the pandemic and cost of living situation”, the backlog in the courts and tribunals, managing client expectations and “reduced capacity as LSLIP projects came to an end”.
Clare Carter, chief executive of Access to Justice Foundation, said: “We know from legal advice charities across England and Wales how crucial this funding has been to help people access income, preserve employment and secure housing.
“Demand for these services is increasing by up to 50% across the sector, so the need for these funds has never been more acute.”