“Troubling inequality” persists for BAME consumers of legal services

Chambers: Several areas where regulators can take action

A “troubling inequality” between BAME and White British consumers in the way they access legal services has changed little in the five years since it raised the issue, the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) has found.

The panel also revealed big differences between ethnic minorities in the way they approach legal advice.

In 2016, it reported that BAME consumers were getting a “raw deal” when choosing and using legal services, and the new report, published today, said “not much has changed” since, with BAME consumers generally feeling “less empowered” when using legal services.

It said: “Consumers from ethnic minority communities shop around and use online services more and make use of comparison websites more often than White British consumers.

“However, they feel less satisfied with the choice on offer and experience less positive or satisfactory services than White British consumers.”

Shopping around by BAME consumers is led by those by those from Pakistani (58%), Chinese (46%) and Indian (44%) backgrounds.

The proportion of Black African and Caribbean consumers (30% and 31%) who shop around is not much higher than White British consumers (28%).

BAME consumers are on average less likely to pay their lawyer using fixed fees than White British consumers, 48% compared to 54%, but Indian consumers are much more likely to do this (68%).

The panel found that more than half of White British consumers (57%) trusted lawyers, but only 43% of BAME consumers did. BAME consumers were more likely to complain.

Satisfaction rates with legal services were high for all consumers. In terms of outcome, it was a little higher among White British consumers (90%) than BAME (84%).

The panel said BAME consumers were “more likely to deal with areas of law that are less transactional and provide less of an element of choice” in finding a lawyer, such as immigration, employment or housing.

Take-up of probate and will-writing services was particularly low, with the proportion of BAME consumers roughly half the figure for White British.

The panel said none of the recommendations for regulators and representative bodies it made following the 2016 report had been implemented, so it restated them.

They include more research on the factors driving choice for BAME consumers and the need for “more meaningful price and quality transparency” given the limited availability of fixed fees in the areas of law BAME consumers are more likely to use.

Representative bodies should “consider ways to raise awareness in ethnic communities about the importance of preparing a will, particularly in the Black African and Pakistani communities”, while regulators should “address the low levels of trust in lawyers across the population”, including why BAME communities are less trusting.

Sarah Chambers, chair of the LSCP, said: “We recognise that some of the findings in this report result from societal inequalities that the regulators have little or no influence over.

“However, there are several areas where the regulators can take action to ensure that providers better serve consumers from different ethnic backgrounds.

“We have made the same recommendations we did five years ago. We intend to be more proactive in nudging the regulators to consider these recommendations and identify other ways to address the gap.”

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