Vulnerability is a pertinent and widespread issue in the UK, effecting many millions of consumers who suffer from a range of physical and mental conditions from disability to depression. The pandemic has vastly increased this number with three million more adults displaying characteristics of vulnerability than before the pandemic. It is crucial that legal-services providers are consistently mindful of vulnerability and the barriers consumers face, not least to their access to justice.
In order to better understand the experiences of vulnerable consumers and the ways in which legal-services providers can better cater to them, the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) has produced a new report.
The report helps to illustrate some of the ill-treatment that vulnerable consumers can experience. This can include staff failing to recognise and cater to vulnerabilities to websites which are inaccessible to those who are blind or deaf. As a result of this, many who are vulnerable expect that their experiences of legal services will be complicated, stressful and ultimately, not worth the time and hassle.
Despite this, our report has found numerous instances of best practice which we would encourage to be introduced across the sector. These include:
- Using plain English and no excessive jargon;
- Providing an easy to navigate website, equipped with accessible pages for those with disabilities;
- Making sure all communications are as accessible as possible in terms of language, presentation and format;
- Providing follow-up notes from meetings along with any necessary actions to be completed;
- Offering home visits for those who are not comfortable or who are unable to travel;
- Making initial contact with the client to outline what their legal journey will look like along with details of each session and what will be discussed in each; and
- Ensuring processes are in place to regularly review the vulnerability and capacity of each service user.
To appropriately and productively cater to vulnerable consumers, the report makes a series of recommendations for the legal-services sector. These range from simple awareness training for staff to more appropriate technology. Through these recommendations, we believe vulnerable consumers will be able to access the services they need and find simpler routes to justice.