Grant programme has helped 10,000 LiPs, says government

Citizens Advice: Funding helped LiPs

A grant scheme which funds early advice services for litigants in person (LiPs), based on a partnership between the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Access to Justice Foundation, helped over 10,000 people in its first year.

According to MoJ researchers, around six in 10 resolved their matters with advice funded by the Legal Support for Litigants in Person (LSLIP) programme.

Part of the MoJ’s 2019 legal support action plan, the LSLIP was launched in April 2020 to back early intervention services for LIPs across England and Wales for just over two years.

The MoJ provided £3m of funding, although critics have pointed out that this is just a tiny fraction of the reduction in civil legal aid spending over the past decade.

There have also been increasingly voluble calls for the MoJ to invest more in early legal advice.

An MoJ review found that regional and local grants to law centres, Citizens Advice centres and other organisations had funded advice for 7,700 LiPs on 8,300 legal issues between October 2020 and June 2021.

A further 2,800 were advised remotely by national organisations like LawWorks, Support Through Court and RCJ Advice, using LSLIP funding.

Most advice took the form of initial general advice (68%). The most common problems were related to employment (29%), family (25%), housing (19%) and welfare benefits (14%), likely to have been particularly in demand because of the pandemic.

The remaining issues covered areas like debt, discrimination, domestic violence, community care and public law.

Advisers also handled casework at the pre-proceedings stage (19%), while 13% was pre-court advice, guidance and support. Legal advice and representation at court accounted for less than 1% of the funding.

Researchers said data indicated that 62% of clients resolved their problems with the support of general advice and casework, avoiding the need to go to court.

Most clients were female (62%), aged between 25 and 55 (65%), and White (91%).

At least a quarter of clients had a disability, but researchers said there was “evidence to suggest this is an underestimation and that a high volume of clients have poor physical and mental health alongside other indicators of vulnerability”.

The MoJ said formalising referral pathways between services and sharing resources had enabled organisations to expand advice across wider geographical areas and areas of law, to provide a more holistic service.

“Early evidence suggests that the advice and support provided is improving client outcomes, including increasing client understanding of how to resolve their problem and increasing client confidence to take action promptly.

“This is helping to resolve problems at an earlier stage, before they reach court or tribunal.”

However, recruiting specialist advisers for LSLIP had been “particularly challenging” as “organisations are competing with the private sector that can offer more competitive salaries and longer-term contracts, that provide greater stability and security”.

Organisations had “expressed concerns about their ability to retain staff as the end of the funding period approaches, as these members of staff begin to look for alternative employment”, which would impact on the service they could provide.

The MoJ said the LSLIP programme will end in June this year.

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