New research briefing into Affordable Advice service published
This briefing paper presents key findings from research into the second year of the Affordable Advice service provided by Law for Life in partnership with Resolution.[i]
The service is aimed people who are managing their finances on divorce or child arrangements difficulties with little or no advice. The service offers a blend of step-by-step guidance from the Advicenow website with fixed fee, unbundled legal advice from Resolution family lawyers at the most crucial points in the process.
The service was developed to meet the needs of Litigants in Person (LiPs) and potential LiPs who do not seek the advice they need from family law solicitors due to fear and confusion about prices, the high cost of advice, and lack of confidence about how to find a good solicitor, and how to be sure it will be worth it.
Law for Life is a national information and education provider that strives for social justice by legally empowering individuals and communities.
Resolution is a community of family justice professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way.
The lack of evidence-based research in this area hampers the development of wider strategy to prevent legal problems from escalating.[ii] This research aims to contribute to the evidence base on the effectiveness of early intervention in reducing the negative impact of legal problems on litigants in person.[iii]
1. The new service enabled service users to get unbundled advice for a substantially reduced fixed fee .[iv]
2. The service reached a new market of people who could not afford to instruct a solicitor to act for them and those nervous about 6 accessing legal advice because of the uncertainty of the final cost. 83% of people said they would not have sought advice or were unsure whether they would have sought advice without the service.
3. The majority of service users were from low- income, working households. Almost 60% of users were women.
4. More service users sought help with financial arrangements than child arrangements (64% and 28%).
5. Satisfaction with the service was high. 98% of users said they would recommend the service to others. 75% of service users considered the service to be either good or very good value. However, 75% said they could not afford to pay more.
6. The service made a difference to users by helping them to understand their legal issues and the processes associated with their situation. It enabled them to weigh options, make informed choices, improved confidence to act, and helped them make their case better.
7. Service users reported increased trust in legal services and 82% said the service had reduced their stress. Users reported that the guides and the solicitor appointment helped them cope better with the process and mitigated the emotions generated by their case. Some users reported substantially improved outcomes in their matter.
"There didn't seem to be any other services that offered that and I think I kind of felt like between the gaps because, you know, there's this coercive control and other issues and some of the things that she spoke to me about was kind of the expectations from a legal standpoint about resilience with children, about keeping myself safe, about the kinds of arrangements that would be acceptable, and I don't really know where else you would get that information." Service user
Recommendations and next steps
Ministry of Justice and HMCTS
- Public funding could increase access to the service by low-income LiPs. Clients meeting clear income-based criteria could have some or all the fee subsidised without financially disadvantaging panel solicitors.
- To increase traffic to the Affordable Advice service, there should be links throughout the Get A Divorce process on GOV.UK and the new Prototype Citizen Hub flagging help from the earliest possible opportunity.
- Awareness of the Affordable Advice service and its relevance to those sorting out arrangements for children needs to be raised by more prominent links on the Cafcass website, Cafcass letters to families, the Notice of hearing, and family mediation websites.
- Further research is needed into the impact of domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and coercive control on LiPs going through divorce in the family court, and the contribution that can be made by experienced panel solicitors to help.
- The provision of wider national demographic data on applicants to the family court is needed to better address the early legal needs of Litigants in Person, as recommended in the Justice Report ‘Improving Access to Justice for Separating Families’ (2022).
Law for Life and Resolution
- The service should be scaled up to meet demand, with wider, targeted promotion and an increase in the recruitment of panel solicitors able to provide high quality legal advice.
- Additional infrastructure funding should be sought to enable the further development of the service, to provide administration and support to clients and solicitors, and to promote the service to potential service users.
- A mechanism for providing public funding assistance for low-income LiPs to access unbundled advice is required. Clients meeting clear income-based criteria would have some or all the fee subsidised without financially disadvantaging panel solicitors.
- Further research is needed into demographics including disability and ethnicity. Further longitudinal research is required into whether the service reduced conflict and improved emotional preparedness. Links between service use and mediation also need further research.
- Better support for legally binding agreements is needed. LawTech funding for a Consent Order Tool should be sought as a priority, as identified by service users.
[i] This briefing covers the period July 2021-June 2022.
[ii] Legal Support the Way Ahead: An Action Plan to deliver better support to people experiencing legal problems Ministry of Justice (2019, 6)
[iii] Our key findings are based on data collected by panel solicitors from 143 LiPs attending unbundled appointments with panel solicitors over 12 months, online surveys of service users and interviews of 15 service users who had attended solicitor appointments, held via videocall or telephone during July – September 2022.
[iv] Most appointments are £100 (+ VAT) for one hour requiring 30 minutes preparation, or £200 (+ VAT) for more complicated financial issues requiring 1-2 hours preparation. The solicitors on the panel on average charge £295 per hour (including VAT) The fee for the Affordable Advice standard appointment represents a 70% reduction on average and users also have the benefit of a fixed fee, which gives them more control over costs.