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Profits down but wills and divorce enquiries surge at Co-op

CLS: More online services

Revenue from legal services at the Co-op was flat in the first six months of this year, but profits fell by a third, the group’s half-year results have revealed.

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on demand for certain services, with will writing services up 69% and divorce-related enquiries increasing three-fold.

Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) recorded turnover of £19m, with underlying profitability down from £3m to £2m compared to the same period last year. The whole group’s underlying profit was £121m on a turnover of £5.8bn, most of which comes from its food and wholesale operations.

The Co-op’s interim report said that the legal business “performed well despite the impacts of lockdown reducing property sales, personal injury claims and bringing operational challenges such as arranging probate by telephone rather than face to face”.

CLS has been expanding its use of technology to make access to legal help more convenient.

“Having developed digital legal advice technologies for estate planning which makes sorting out your will easier and more effective, in 2020 we’ve been developing a suite of digital legal advice services that cover probate, personal injury, employment and family law.

“Our customers are making the most of the free legal advice and guidance offered by our new range of services. At the start of the lockdown we saw an increase in demand for will-writing services, while since lockdown has lifted we’ve seen a 300% increase in divorce-related enquiries reflecting the tremendous stress many relationships have suffered during this time.”

CLS said online consultations with legal advisors were already growing before Covid-19 but the experience of the pandemic was likely to increase that trend.

As Covid death rates began to rise, it introduced a bereavement notification and advice service to help people deal with a deceased’s affairs by giving them help with informing financial institutions, stopping junk mail and closing social media accounts.

CLS said that, typically, bereaved families are left to deal with an average of 12 organisations, “ranging from the government’s Tell us Once service, to pension providers, insurers and utility providers and corresponding with the coroner. This new service enables us to help bereaved families by providing a single point of contact.”

CLS saw revenue grow nearly 15% to £40.1m in 2019, with profit jumping 165% from £2.3m to £6.1m.