Dear Ms Malik,
‘Making Legal Rights a Reality’: The Legal Services Commission’s Strategy for the Community Legal Service
Please find attached Youth Access’ response to ‘Making Legal Rights A Reality’.
Thank you for your consideration of our views.
Advice Services Development Manager
Youth Access’ response to:
Making Legal Rights a Reality: The Legal Services Commission's Strategy for the Community Legal Service
For enquiries contact:
Advice Services Development Manager
1 & 2 Taylor’s Yard
67 Alderbrook Road
London SW12 8AD
Tel: 020 8772 9900
Youth Access welcomes the opportunity to respond to the LSC’s consultation paper ‘Making Legal Rights A Reality’.
About Youth Access
Youth Access is the national membership association for a UK-wide network of over 200 agencies providing information, advice, counselling and personal support services to young people. Youth Access is a full member of Advice Services Alliance and is recognised as the key representative body for youth advice services.
Youth Access believes that all young people have the right to access high quality information, advice and counselling services wherever they may live in the UK and promotes good practice through training, publications, quality standards, information, advice and consultancy.
Our influential report Rights To Access: meeting young people’s needs for advice (Youth Access, 2002) sets out the most detailed evidence available on young people’s needs for advice, their advice-seeking behaviour and barriers to access to advice services. We are currently working with the Legal Services Research Centre to improve the evidence base on these issues.
Over the past three years, we have been working in partnership with the Law Centres Federation (LCF) and other partners in the advice and youth sectors to develop models of provision that will solve the problem of young people’s continuing marginalisation from access to high quality advice on their legal rights, options and responsibilities. We are in the early stages of a major project that, amongst other things, will support, develop and evaluate different models of legal advice provision for young people. With LCF, we also co-ordinate and chair the London Youth Advice Forum, which brings together around 20 local advice providers committed to developing young people’s access to advice.
Our response to the proposals and questions set out in the consultation paper
Q1 Do you agree with the flexible definition of the CLS as we have outlined in paragraphs 1.5-1.16? We would not go so far as to agree that what is outlined in the consultation document constitutes a ‘definition’ of the CLS. We can see some advantages in applying a flexible interpretation of the scope of the Community Legal Service, although of more practical benefit would be clarification of the LSC’s thinking on which services will and will not be a future priority. We believe the strategy raises some fundamental issues about the future role in the CLS of agencies that have no funding relationship with the LSC.
Youth Access members have been encouraged by the LSC, and by ourselves, to engage in the CLS, e.g. via attainment of the Quality Mark and involvement in CLSPs. Many have been happy to invest considerable resources in this work with limited payback on the understanding that there might be long-term gains. The proposals outlined in the strategy appear to be withdrawing any such prospect and any incentive to remain committed to or part of the CLS. There is a high risk of a loss of good-will from agencies working at General Help level, which could be highly damaging to the referral relationships and wider partnerships that have been built since the inception of the CLS. If many of the main goals of the strategy, e.g. better meeting the needs of disadvantaged groups, are to be achieved, then it is vital that the wider advice sector is able to buy in to the strategy and to find reasons to remain involved. Such reasons are not immediately obvious.
This section of the consultation paper also raises questions about branding of the CLS. The Connexions Service offers lessons in this area. Connexions invested huge sums in developing its brand with some success in terms of brand recognition. However, research has shown that many young people, whilst recognising the brand, had little understanding of what kind of service they could expect from Connexions. It was widely viewed by young people as a Government careers service, leading to some pre-existing youth advice services experiencing a reduction in usage and a sense of loss of independence. The DfES’ current Youth Matters green paper is proposing that the Connexions service now be unpicked, with the brand possibly being confined to careers advice services for young people.
The CLS may never become very well-known as a brand, certainly amongst young people, but this may not matter, provided local services are viewed by potential clients as accessible. We would certainly caution against spending vast sums on branding local services, whose name and image, in our view, should always be determined at local level with the involvement of users and potential target groups.
Q2 Do you agree that our primary focus for the CLS should remain as defined in paragraphs 1.17-1.23?
Q3 Do you agree that the vision set out in paragraphs 2.1 – 2.16 is the right one for the CLS? If not, what would you change or add? We broadly agree with your proposed foci and vision for the CLS.
Client-focused and accessible:
We are pleased to see an apparent desire to better meet the needs of vulnerable groups, although we do not agree entirely with your focus on three types of services or clients (para 2.6), which are rather vague.
Whilst there are, of course, many different client groups with unmet and specific needs, we genuinely believe there is a strong case for young people to be treated as an exception and to be the subject of a particular focus of the CLS’s work. This case is based not only on evidence of client need, but on a desire to see joined-up government policy.
Around half of all ‘young people’ – defined by Youth Access as 11-25 year olds – are legally ‘children’. The Lord Chancellor’s Directions, setting out funding priorities for the CLS Fund, states that the LSC should give priority to proceedings concerning the welfare of children. Hitherto, this has been interpreted by the LSC as a requirement to prioritise the welfare of children in family proceedings, however, we believe it also imposes an obligation on the LSC to ensure legal aid in other categories of law is targeted at young people who are legally children where their welfare is at risk.
The work of the few existing specialist services for young people has uncovered the vulnerability of many ‘at risk’ under 18 year olds to unlawful local authority practices, which remain unchallenged elsewhere. Close examination of the Legal Services Research Centre’s data, meanwhile, produces the discovery that young people have far higher needs than the rest of the population in acute areas such as homelessness and domestic violence, but are less likely to obtain advice.1 The DCA stated recently that it intends to focus legal aid on “protecting children who are at risk of serious abuse or neglect” and contributing towards the Government’s work to deliver the five Every Child Matters outcomes “for all children”.2 Meanwhile, the DCA’s 2004-05 Action Plan for involving children and young people states that:
“It is clear that DCA has a crucial responsibility to work in partnership with children and young people, voluntary organisations, academic experts and legal professionals to protect children and young people from violence, abuse or neglect and to provide legal information, advice and support.”3 It is also worth noting that the DCA’s Education, Advice and Information Strategy has an explicit focus on young people. It would seem absurd to invest in raising young people’s awareness of their legal rights, thus raising young people’s expectations, without giving them access to sources of advice that would enable them to ‘make their legal rights a reality’.
In our view, the proposals in the CLS strategy to meet disadvantaged client groups’ needs through outreach work by large Community Legal Advice Centres (CLACs) and other mainstream services stand little chance of meeting young people’s needs any better than the CLS has hitherto. It is important to understand that mainstream advice agencies’ failure to provide adequate services to young people is not simply a matter of access – although that is crucially important – but is also related to knowledge and skills deficits on the part of advisers and lawyers. Gallagher, for example, found a gap between the legal knowledge of solicitors and the kinds of information, advice and representation that children and young people had identified as being relevant to them.4 The LSRC has reported recently that :
“Our results show that young people experience different types of problems compared to all other age groups. The high incidence of homelessness problems indicates that, when they do report problems, the youngest respondents in the LSRC national survey report problems of a severe nature.”5 The ongoing project to develop national occupational standards for the legal advice sector has discovered the need for a very particular base of knowledge and skills in order to advise young people, who are one of only two client groups identified as necessitating the development of specific units for their advisers.
All the evidence points to the need for the CLS to develop a very particular ‘offer’ for young people, involving legal advice for young people delivered in youth settings by specialist youth advice workers or lawyers. Such an offer may need to sit outside the mainstream CLAC model proposed, though it may fit better with the CLAN model, and be more closely linked to the ‘comprehensive information, advice and support package’ for young people proposed by the Government in its recent Youth Matters green paper.
It would be sensible to draw lessons from the evidence base developed by Streetwise Community Law Centre in South London, which is highlighted in the consultation document (in Appendix Two: Achievements of the CLS) as an example of a service that meets clients’ specific needs. Streetwise is also a project in which the LSC has invested significantly as a ‘centre of excellence’ for young people’s legal advice and which has amply demonstrated the merits of its young person-centred service model based in multi-disciplinary youth drop-in premises. If the LSC is serious about better meeting the needs of young people, and indeed of other client groups, then it should be looking to invest now in replicating models that clearly work.
We fully support the inclusion of the principle of independence within the vision.
Whilst the strategy sets out a number of initiatives relating to quality in which the LSC has had some involvement, we are concerned that in reality the LSC has no clear quality strategy for the wider CLS. The suspension of General Help level audits of the Quality Mark threatens to unpick one of the CLS’s great achievements of its first five years, i.e. the raising of quality in organisations providing generalist advice or advice to specific communities or client groups. Many of our members have found the process of working towards the Quality Mark and receiving audits to have been extremely beneficial to their practice, to their confidence as advice providers and to their relationships with specialist providers. These agencies feel a part of the CLS and have contributed significantly to its successes. As we mentioned under Q.1, there is a high risk of a loss of good-will from agencies working at General Help level, which could be highly damaging to the referral relationships and wider partnerships that have been built since the inception of the CLS.
The proposal to devolve the power to accredit agencies to the Quality Mark is incoherent. Since the LSC withdrew its support from the excellent Inclusive Quality Project, only a few networks have the resources to support their members in such a scheme, rendering the passporting of agencies in the better-off networks meaningless.
There is an urgent need for the LSC to clarify the future of the Quality Mark at General Help level and to publish a clear quality strategy for the CLS.
Q4 Do you agree that these are the main challenges that the CLS faces? Are there others? (see paragraphs 3.1 – 3.13) Understanding the need:
We fully support the strategy’s proposal to focus on understanding clients’ needs better, but have serious concerns that the LSC appears to have decided upon the solution to meeting clients’ needs before this work is done. It is vital that the paper promised in ‘Appendix One: Next Steps – CLS policy papers’ on ‘Extending the evidence base for the CLS’ is not delayed. We understand that this paper will cover needs assessment and different ways of ensuring that hard-to-reach groups can access the advice they need. We have to question why such a paper was not scheduled for publication before the development of the strategy rather than after, for, in our view, an understanding of client needs must form the basis of any models designed to meet those needs. The rush to CLAC and CLAN models, which we understand will be piloted regardless of the feedback received during the strategy’s consultation period, raises suspicions that cost and administrative simplicity are the real drivers behind the strategy rather than client needs. If this is the case, there must be a very strong chance that the proposed/imposed solutions will not end up meeting client needs.
Making legal and advice services more client-focused; accessible; co-ordinated:
We fully support the concept of making legal and advice services more client-focused, accessible and co-ordinated, although we have serious concerns about the proposed methods for achieving this that are suggested elsewhere in the strategy.
As we have argued elsewhere in this response, the evidence already exists that in order for advice services to be accessible and co-ordinated for young people, there must be specialist young person-centred services staffed by specialist young person’s advisers/lawyers in multi-disciplinary young person-centred premises.
One of the great failures of the CLS in its first five years has been its inability to join up effectively with a range of other government initiatives. We note and welcome the mention in the strategy of making links with the Every Child Matters agenda, but regret that these links haven’t already been made. A coherent strategy for meeting young people’s advice needs cannot be developed without an examination of its fit with the cross-government policy behind Every Child Matters. The recent Youth Matters green paper sets out the government’s plans for providing young people with access to a comprehensive package of information, advice and support provided through schools (for those in mainstream education) and centres in the community (predominantly for those with greater needs). It is hard to see a fit with the CLAC and CLAN models.
It will be crucially important that the LSC incorporates the findings of the Social Exclusion Unit’s ‘Young Adults with Troubled Lives’ project, which is due to report in November 2005, into the strategy if it wishes to meet young people’s needs for advice. The project’s interim report6 states that “national policy makers have not placed sufficient weight on young people’s thinking and behaviour when they have designed policies aimed at them. This oversight means that policy interventions aimed at young people risk failing.” The report highlights the potential of ‘holistic services’, “such as one stop shops where young adults can receive help and advice on a range of problems”.
Q5. Do you support the proposal to establish a national stakeholders group? Do you have any comments on the initial remit and proposed membership as outlined in paras 5.3.& 5.4? We can see the potential benefits of a national stakeholders group, but would need further details of the proposal before giving our unqualified support.
It is vital that young people’s interests should be represented on any stakeholders group, in line with DCA commitments in its Action Plan for children and young people.
If other government departments are to be represented, it will be important that the DfES is included, in order to ensure the links promised between the CLS and Every Child Matters are made.
Q6 Do you agree that the planning function of CLSPs should be undertaken by a different body? Do you agree the appropriate body should be agreed between the LSC and local authorities? There is insufficient information available in the consultation paper on this proposal for us to comment on its appropriateness. We have doubts that the LSC will have sufficient influence on local strategic partnerships to further the interests of the CLS in most areas. There must also be a danger that local authorities’ conflicts of interest will lead to support being withdrawn from certain types of advice services on grounds other than need.
Where CLSPs have been successful, e.g. in co-ordinating services, improving referral relationships, or undertaking social policy work, we believe there is a strong case for small-scale funding (rather than staff resources) to be provided by the LSC to support their continuation and facilitation, otherwise the likelihood is that these positive aspects of CLSPs’ work will fade away.
Q7 Paragraph 6.3 outlines steps to ensure that appropriate resourcing is available for the CLS. Are there other steps the Commission should take? The LSC and DCA need to do a lot more to make the case for advice to the Treasury and other government departments. The failure to do this hitherto is partly responsible for the shortage of funding for the CLS. We would recommend commissioning a number of major research projects to demonstrate the economic and other benefits of legal advice - and the costs of not intervening with legal advice. In particular, better evidence is needed of the impact of advice on health, education and crime.
We hold serious concerns about the strategy’s proposals to ‘refocus’ funding for face-to-face services on ‘priority neighbourhoods’, regional services and telephone services. It is vital that advice services remain rooted in the local communities from where they have usually sprung.
Q8 Do you agree with the three priority work areas for the CLS as outlined in paragraph 7.1? If not what should the priority work areas be? Yes
Q9 Do you agree with our proposal to expand our telephone service? Is it right to make a basic level of service (such as information on legal rights and self-help packs) available to everyone regardless of means? We agree with this proposal only if it is achieved without making cuts to face-to-face services. We also have concerns that this proposal directly contradicts with the stated aim of targeting resources better on vulnerable clients.
Telephone advice tends to increase access for more articulate and confident clients rather than for hard-to-reach client groups. It also tends to increase, rather than reduce, the demand for face-to-face services, as more complex cases tend to be difficult to progress without a face-to-face meeting between adviser and client.
In our experience, the trust necessary to effectively advise a vulnerable young person cannot usually be built through telephone advice alone. The potential client may well want to test out the service, e.g. for trust-worthiness of staff and levels of confidentiality offered, through an initial telephone enquiry, but is unlikely to disclose personal details until a trusting face-to-face relationship has been built.
We have doubts that many vulnerable young people will be likely to feel that a service called ‘Community Legal Service Direct’ will cater for their specific needs. Even the Connexions Direct service, which targets young people and has added text, email and webchat services to its telephone service, has struggled in this regard.
It will be vital that CLS Direct builds strong links with Connexions Direct and other telephone advice services for young people to ensure that young people’s needs are met through holistic responses, as recommended by the Social Exclusion Unit’s Transitions report. There would be a danger otherwise of CLS Direct and other services dealing with only one part each of a young person’s multi-layered problem.
Q10 Do you agree that over time we should develop the greatest concentration of face to face services in the most deprived communities? Whilst we do not disagree that areas of high legal need should have adequate services, we can see very serious dangers in the approach proposed. First, legal need is not driven solely by deprivation, but can be influenced by local factors such as local authority practice, the quality or poverty of other local services or decline in local industries. Second, the pattern of legal need may vary between different client groups in a given area, e.g. a generally prosperous coastal town may have a severe problem with youth unemployment and homelessness due to its seasonal tourist trade. Third, there are many areas which do not feature in the 88 most deprived areas, but which contain very severe pockets of deprivation. The approach proposed would inevitably, in our view, involve the re-allocation of resources from some areas with significant unmet need.
Q11 Do you agree with the proposals to pilot Community Legal & Advice Centres and Community Legal & Advice Networks, as outlined in paras 7.22-7.32? Do you agree with their proposed remits and broad descriptions of the services they will provide? CLACs: We find it difficult to support the concept of CLACs, but can support the proposal to pilot them in a small number of locations, provided they are properly evaluated.
Our fundamental concern about the CLAC model is that it is not a model that is based on, never mind supported by, evidence of need. There does not appear to have been any research conducted with the public to test their desire for CLACs. It is certainly not supported by a thorough analysis of the LSRC’s evidence from the English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Survey. Far from pointing to a need for fewer, larger mainstream services – surely the most likely outcome of the development of CLACs – the LSRC’s data has led the LSRC to conclude, in a recent article exploring the lessons to be drawn regarding ‘Vulnerable Groups’, that:
“Our findings therefore support policies that take account of people’s complex and diverse advice needs.”7 We are concerned that CLACs will be tempted to take a one-size-fits-all approach to meeting the needs of a range of different client groups, rather than developing distinct services for each group. Young people’s needs have never been met through large mainstream services before, leading to us having doubts about the ability of CLACs to meet their needs in the most effective or cost-effective way. Nevertheless, we would be happy to work with the LSC to explore how CLACs might best be able to attempt to meet young people’s needs. It would be helpful if the LSC could accept as a starting point the (robust) evidence8 that any legal advice service for young people must be
specifically focused on young people;
delivered by specialist young persons’ advisers / lawyers;
based in multi-disciplinary youth settings, alongside youth workers, counsellors, Connexions Personal Advisers and other professionals who can help the adviser deal cost-effectively with the range of inter-related non-legal issues that young people tend to need help with alongside their legal problems.
The most obvious way of making a fit between the evidence of need and the LSC’s desire for CLACs to be a single entity would be for CLACs to second any youth advice staff it employs to another agency. More sensible, however, in our view, would be for the LSC to either accept that young people’s needs may be better met outside the proposed CLAC model or to be flexible with the CLAC model.
Youth Access is committed to piloting the ‘Youth Access Law Centre’ model, developed in conjunction with Law Centres Federation, as part of our Rights to Access Project. The Youth Access Law Centre model, which is very much rooted in evidence of need and of what works, has some similarities with the CLAC model, in that it is an attempt to meet a diverse range of legal need through a sub-regional centre of excellence. Given our determination to press ahead with piloting Youth Access Law Centres and yours with piloting CLACs and CLANs, we very much hope we can work with you over the next couple of years to establish a synergy between the two, rather than seeing them as incompatible.
There must be a danger that CLACs will have a severe and negative impact on long-standing, popular and effective community-based advice services. One of the key strengths of most voluntary sector advice agencies is that they are rooted in the local community and therefore have the backing and trust of that community. Given the short timescale planned for setting up the pilots, there is a danger that CLACs will effectively be imposed on an area by the LSC and the local authority rather than be driven by the wishes and needs of the local community. There are important lessons to be drawn by the LSC here from the experience of Connexions, which was a centrally-driven initiative to provide advice for teenagers. Where Connexions Centres were opened near to existing youth advice agencies or, in some instances, replaced existing services, they failed to garner the trust of local young people, many of whom perceived Connexions to be an imposed government service rather than a service they would choose to use. Existing services often experienced reductions in their previous levels of funding and lost staff to Connexions, who were able to offer better terms and conditions. The overall level of service on offer to young people barely improved in many areas despite the massive extra investment. The Connexions ‘experiment’ is already being unpicked by the DfES, due to these and other problems.
We share the concerns expressed by Advice Services Alliance in their response about the governance and independence of CLACs and about the potential creation of local monopolies that present unfair competition to existing services. There would appear to be a likelihood of major rationalisation of services, which would ill serve the most vulnerable clients.
CLANs: The CLAN model appears to us to be less problematic and controversial than the CLAC model, as it appears it could be more flexible and inclusive of existing services. We would expect that a Youth Access Law Centre service, for example, could provide any youth advice element of a CLAN’s service specification without the potential difficulties involved in meeting young people’s needs through a CLAC.
We don’t really understand why the LSC envisages the CLAC as an urban model and the CLAN as a non-urban model. In our view, the LSC would avoid an awful lot of controversy and risk of failure if it were to decide to focus on testing the CLAN model at the exclusion of the CLAC model.
Q12 Do you agree that there should be an increasing presumption in favour of services that work across several areas of social welfare law? We agree that there are advantages for many clients in having a range of specialisms under one roof. However, we support the existence of a ‘mixed economy’ in the advice sector and have concerns that this proposal will undermine that.
Q13 Do you agree that the CLS should put more resources into taking strategic action? What other approaches could be taken beyond those outlined in paragraphs 7.37-7.47 Yes, we agree that more resources should be put into strategic action. However, we believe it is vital that this work be led by providers rather than the LSC.
Q14 What other ways can the LSC promote information about legal rights and responsibilities? We are encouraged by the emphasis in the DCA’s Education, Information and Advice Strategy on young people. It will be important that the strategy makes links across the CLS, children’s rights sector and youth sector to progress this work.
We support the work of Advice Services Alliance’s Advicenow project, which may offer one of the best routes for the production, commissioning and dissemination of legal information.
Q15 Have we identified the key issues in developing the appropriate links between the social welfare areas of the CLS, Children and Family Services and the Criminal Defence Service? What other steps could be taken to facilitate these links? No comment.
1 See unpublished analysis by Youth Access of LSRC data from the English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Survey
2 A Fairer Deal for Legal Aid, DCA, July 2005
3 Involving Children & Young People: Action Plan 2004-05, DCA, September 2004.
4 Children and Young People’s Voices: The law, legal services, systems and processes in Scotland, R. Gallagher, Scottish Child Law Centre, 1999.
5 Social Exclusion and Civil Law: Experience of Civil Justice Problems among Vulnerable Groups, A. Buck, N. Balmer and P. Pleasence, Social Policy & Administration (ISSN 0144-5596), Vol. 39, No.3, June 2005, pp.302-322.
6 Transitions: A SEU interim report on Young Adults, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, March 2005
7 A. Buck et al, op. cit.
8 See, for example, Rights to Access: meeting young people’s needs for advice, Youth Access, 2002, and Impact Report: A young people’s Law Centre in action, Streetwise Community Law Centre, 2003.