Making Legal Rights a Reality (CLS Strategy)
Overview and Summary
Citizens Advice welcomes the Legal Services Commission (LSC) publication of the draft strategy for the Community Legal Service (CLS), Making legal rights a reality. The Strategy provides an essential opportunity for much needed discussion and decision-making about the direction and future of the CLS.
Citizens Advice welcomed the independent review of the Community Legal Service and contributed significant evidence to that review, gathering evidence from bureaux through surveys and consultation events.
To respond to this consultation we have similarly gathered evidence from bureaux around England and Wales to help us formulate our response. It is clear that the LSC is embarking on a programme of policy development towards implementing the Strategy. There should be many opportunities throughout that process for discussion with organisations like Citizens Advice, and we wish to help the LSC get it right by engaging in those processes. This response sets out our views at this stage on the big ideas and thrust of the Strategy.
This response covers :
- Our role in the CLS today
- Our own plans for improving access to CAB services
- Our hopes for the review of the CLS and subsequent strategies
- Key areas in the proposed strategy which we support and welcome
- Key areas where we have concerns or believe further development, and discussion are needed.
Our role in the CLS
Citizens Advice welcomed and played an active part in the creation of the Community Legal Service, and the implementation of many of the Access to Justice Act reforms. Under the LSC’s new contracting system today 244 CABx and 150 other advice agencies and Law Centres now have LSC contracts. All bureaux are passported to the general Help Quality Mark via the Citizens Advice Audit.
Our ambitions for improving access to advice
The CAB Service recognises that to fulfil its purpose, it is essential that we are able to help more people and that we provide easily accessible information, advice and advocacy services. To this end Citizens Advice has developed its own Access Strategy, a four year programme designed to enable the service to help more people and to ensure that those on greatest need receive the most appropriate service. The Strategy consists of five main strands of work:
- Developing new and existing access channels
- Increasing capacity
- Clarifying those we should be working with and what we are providing
- Improving efficiency
- Working more closely with other organisations
Our hopes for the CLS strategy
The Citizens Advice Service is a key agency involved in helping people gain access to justice in today’s society. This work involves helping people and communities to solve an enormous range of problems and challenges they face. We provide high quality advice to individuals on their rights and responsibilities in relation to welfare benefits, rights at work, resolution of debt and housing problems, consumer disputes, legal problems, immigration and asylum rights amongst many other issues.
We believe the future focus must be on the achievement of a service, which meets and responds to changes in peoples’ needs, is capable of progressively helping more people, provides choice, is accessible, user-friendly and sensitive to issues as they present themselves in daily life. Citizens Advice believes that this is best achieved through:
- Clearly stated aims for the CLS to make a difference to people by resolving problems which can cause or embed social exclusion and an underlying ethos for the CLS based on the recognition that under the Human Rights Act equality of access to legal redress is an important state obligation.
- A client-centred focus on individuals’ real needs and circumstances, with appropriate redress for poor quality services
- As much diversity of provision and choice for individuals who need advice as possible by providing a mixed economy of provision, promoting information education and self-help, improving the accessibility of existing services and by widening the available methods of legal redress.
- Effective partnership between agencies, including between public and private agencies.
- A holistic approach to solving problems. Supporting funding, training and auditing criteria and systems must be sufficiently flexible to encourage and enable front-line service providers to provide a holistic response as appropriate in clients best interests.
- A sustainable funding framework for advice services. More generally sustainability should be a key principle for the LSC in its approach to the management of funds and contracts in future.
- An emphasis on wider problem solving (through social policy work) with proper incentives for this work by advice providers and CLSPs.
- A culture and approach which encourages and facilitates innovation.
The future Strategy for the CLS also needs to refocus the community legal service objectives, including contractual objectives, towards improving access to advice, and providing the right incentives for the flexible delivery of services and strategic action to tackle problems.
It should also be a strategic goal for the CLS to join-up with other government initiatives to improve advice provision - the LSC must look at policies relating to local government funding, full cost recovery, regulation of legal services and financial eligibility for legal advice; all too often people seem to be denied access to justice due to policy-makers being unable to join-up on different aspects of the civil justice system and advice services funding
Key areas we welcome
In general terms we welcome Making legal rights a reality because
- many people don’t get advice they need; according to the LSC’s own research whilst 37% of the population experience ‘justiciable’ problems, only 30% of these people seek advice.
- the vision of a system which places the client at its heart and which achieves positive change in individual lives as well as in communities is one we share and feel is much needed for the future of the CLS;
- the role and importance of legal and advice services needs to be more highly valued, and better understood, across government so that legal and advice services are valued not denigrated;
- the present system is prevented from meeting needs not only by disjointed systems but by too much red tape making the system too inflexible and slow moving – this stifles responsiveness to changing patterns of user needs and innovation and has inherent risks of bringing poor service to the public as well as poor value for money.
In particular the following ideas and proposals are welcome and helpful:
- definition and vision for the CLS, with a focus on clients needs
- a more strategic (and crucially we would suggest partnership based) approach towards the involvement of other funders besides the Legal Services Commission in developing the CLS
- alignment of contractual regimes from 2007 as part of a new Commissioning Strategy
- expansion of CLS Direct and ‘generic’ approaches to the provision social welfare advice building on existing services to develop ‘holistic’ centres and referral networks
- increased recognition of the role of strategic action in tackling advice needs
Key areas of concern about the Strategy
There are also considerable possibilities that the challenges the CLS faces will remain or that specific activities proposed in the Strategy will misfire or carry real downside risks. Citizens Advice wants to play an active role in helping the Legal Services Commission to shape the CLS Strategy in the best possible way and to eliminate so far as possible the downside risks flowing from the proposals for change.
To enable this to happen our key messages to the LSC are as follows:
- The Strategy risks restricting access to advice through further concentration of supply
The Strategy appears likely to result in further concentration of publicly funded legal services – a smaller number of entry points to the system, covering a wider number of areas of law and targeting areas of dense populations. There is a real risk of this reducing contestability in local supply markets by creating a system where an effective monopoly can thrive. In some areas of law there may also be a risk of loss of specialist suppliers if the LSC pursues a contracting strategy requiring all contract holders to cover at least three areas of law. In our response we specifically propose that the LSC should develop a policy and strategy on serving rural areas.
- There is a critical need to work in partnership with others – the structures for the new CLS should ensure this can happen
The CLS is today and will continue to be a network of different advice providers and funders. Each provider and funder has different drivers, priorities and constraints. The CLS is ultimately the sum of its parts and the LSC’s vision for the CLS cannot be fully realised without the full involvement and co-operation of those that actually deliver the CLS services. Advice service providers, as well as funders and service users need to be at the table with the LSC in shaping and planning the new system if it is to get the best fit, as well as secure support and engagement. The Strategy regrettably proposes a distancing of providers from the strategic table at the LSC. We think this is misguided, as well as failing to capitalise on the knowledge and skills of delivery partners.
- There are risks from an undue focus on creating a single brand
We appreciate the LSC’s ambition to ensure the CLS ‘brand’ is well known by the public. This may be helpful to highlighting for people where they can get advice, as well as securing a higher degree of public support for expenditure on services as well. But an overriding focus on promoting the CLS brand fails to take account of the huge advantages of individual brands of CLS partners, which are both well known and highly trusted by the public at large. Working through others is likely to be more effective at reaching different sections of the public, particularly those people in greatest need of support (see SEU Improving Services Improving Lives).
- Risks to existing funding and services
CABx have extensive and long lasting relationships with other funders, local authorities, the Big Lottery Fund (formerly Community Fund) and Primary Care Trusts who all support local advice services to varying degrees. CABx are extremely anxious about the LSC’s proposals to build up their own and closer relationships with such funders – this could be read as a real threat to ‘colonise’ the core funders of a major, independent charity providing advice to the public. We think the LSC must work closely with organisations like CABx if it intends to make approaches to local authorities and other funders about their involvement in funding local advice services, not least because we have considerable expertise in dealing with those different funders. But also there are considerable risks from unilateral approaches to local funders from a Government department of creating threats to CAB funding. The LSC should have a paramount concern to guard against such threats arising at all costs because that could threaten a key area of provision in the system or network, which makes up the CLS. We seek reassurance from the LSC that they will work in partnership with organisations in approaching and engaging other funders.
Secondly, linked to the above point is the fact that it is important to recognise the massive contribution that funders of local advice services such as local authorities have made and continue to make to ensuring it is possible to engage any agencies in a network called the CLS. Those contributions must be safeguarded at all costs, and existing relationships should be used as a platform for improving access to advice.
- Risks from failing to align funding systems with strategic goals
We do not consider the contracting regime in its current format is fit to support the delivery of holistic client focused services that the Strategy would require. The LSC must establish a commissioning model and process that is proportionate, fit for purpose and recognises the added value that different service delivery models brings. This also means having a hard look at cutting the red tape and bureaucracy in the present system so as to release more resources to the front line.
- Risk of undue focus on telephone service provision
We recognise the important role that telephone services play in helping people to get access to advice, and in many cases to resolve their problems fully. We see improving and increasing telephone access to the CAB service as a key requirement for us if we are to meet our strategic aspirations for improving access to our advice services. However, telephone services must not be seen as an adequate replacement for face-to-face services. A new Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) Interim Report, “Improving Services, Improving Lives” notes that telephone services can benefit some groups but goes onto say, “…the move towards more delivery of services over the phone may have a negative impact on large groups of people.”. The SEU report would appear to be a very timely resource for the LSC to refer to.
- Risks of planning blight
The Strategy proposes a number of piloting exercises, as well as a number of distinct policy papers yet to come. There is a real risk of ossification and loss of direction and leadership within the CLS from an unduly protracted process of piloting different funding and contracting models and cogitating about policy strands. It is right to get things right but much has been learnt from the extensive review of the CLS completed over a year ago which if properly used should enable the LSC to move confidently on some areas without the need to create further planning blight and uncertainty, provided they work in partnership.
1. Do you agree with the flexible definition of the CLS as we have outlined in paragraphs 1.5 –1.16?
As the CLS covers such a wide range of services it seems impossible and impractical to provide a strict definition of the CLS. One of the key strengths of the CLS is the variety of providers included within it and any attempts to produce a narrow definition would be both a distraction from the key issue of ensuring that individuals can access advice and could discourage many advice providers from continuing to engage with the CLS or develop innovative services.
As the paper acknowledges this flexible definition does have implications - not least the lack of a recognisable CLS brand. We would suggest that rather than investing significant resources in creating a CLS brand, the LSC should accept this situation, and rely on and work with existing recognised brands within the CLS.
The paper suggests that this lack of recognition of the CLS brand, “could make it more difficult for clients to access the services they need.” (1.13) The reality is that there are a wider range of reasons why clients do not access services (lack of understanding about services, no suppliers to access etc) and the focus needs to be on these as solving them could have a greater, more immediate impact than trying to establish a CLS brand.
2. Do you agree that our primary focus for the CLS should remain as defined in paras 1.17 – 1.23?
We agree that the primary focus for the CLS should be the protection of fundamental rights in the face of action by public authorities, the resolution of private law disputes and the tackling of problems that can lead to or exacerbate social exclusion.
3. Do you agree that the vision set out in paras 2.1 – 2.16 is the right one for the CLS? If not, what would you change or add?
Citizens Advice would support a CLS that is truly client focused and accessible, independent, cost effective and co-ordinated and quality assured. To ensure that this vision really can be achieved a number of steps need to be taken:
- The LSC and providers should work together to understand the precise meaning of client focus and identify the key elements that will enable providers to deliver client focused services. The Not for Profit sector would bring a wealth of experience in this area as it has been acknowledged by a number of government bodies including the SEU that the voluntary and community sector has a particularly strong focus on the needs of service users.
- CLS funding from all sources would need to be flexible so that services could be delivered in ways which suit clients rather than the services being designed to ensure that excessively strict and inflexible reporting arrangements can be met.
- Existing relationships between funders and advice providers at both a local and national level need to be recognised and used as a springboard to gain further resource for the CLS.
- A strategic approach to quality and outcome measurement should be adopted to ensure that services with several funding streams are not overburdened by excessive and repetitive requirements that direct from the primary objective of the service.
4. Do you agree that these are the main challenges that the CLS faces? Are there others? (See paras 3.1 – 3.13)
This section identifies some of the main challenges for the CLS, however we would suggest that there are additional challenges which, if met could prove hugely beneficial to the future of the CLS.
Working with providers
If the CLS is to succeed then the LSC needs the co-operation of advice providers and any future working relationship needs to be based on the recognition that all those involved in advice work are attempting to make a difference to clients. This means that providers see that their work and experiences are valued by the LSC. It does not however involve the LSC accepting poor value for money or poor standards of service from its contract holders. Some of the benefits to be gained from a positive working relationship would be:
- A joint approach to funders regarding the need for more resources on a sustainable basis would provide more credibility to the argument for increased advice funding. It would show both central and local government that key stakeholders in the CLS were agreed and working together to deliver a key message
- Providers have a wealth of experience in dealing with some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society and drawing on this could be key in ensuring that CLS developments accurately target the issues in working with these client groups. For example in the area of mental health Citizens Advice Bureaux now provide services in 75 psychiatric hospitals and 165 community mental health settings. Many of these projects work closely with a range of statutory and NfP agencies and this type of experience could be exceptionally useful in developing the Policy Paper on the advice needs of those with mental health problems and in supporting any funding bids.
There is significant anecdotal evidence from bureaux around the country that they are finding it increasing difficult to recruit advisers with sufficient experience to ‘hit the ground running.’ This is not a problem unique to more isolated rural areas but is also replicated in some major cities. This problem does need to be tackled to ensure that a successful CLS can be delivered and is something that the LSC and the advice networks could work together to solve.
A New Contract
Overall the Strategy suggests a much more holistic CLS that will not assume that clients have single neat, ‘debt problems’ or ‘welfare benefit problems’. This is welcome but to ensure that specialists can respond in this way will require a more flexible contracting system. We are pleased to note that the LSC will be exploring a broad Social Welfare Quality Mark and while this will be a great step forward, other elements of the contract will need to be reconsidered, in particular the ‘input’ elements and how these are measured, which currently reflect a narrow subject based approach to legal help.
In order to implement this new approach, the LSC may wish to consider moving towards broader service level agreements, and to build these into its Commissioning Strategy. It is clear that any developments towards consortia working as suggested at Section 7 - for example with the piloting of CLACs and CLANs, would require a wholly different approach to contracting.
Responding to a changing environment
The CLS does not operate in a vacuum and in addition to being flexible to the changing needs of clients it also needs to consider its role in the context of wider changes. For example the future changes to the regulation of legal services will impact on advice providers and the LSC should monitor any potential impact on the CLS.
Another example of this is the creation of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which will lead to a need for the provision of advice on discrimination. The LSC recognises that the discriminated against are a key client group that must be served but the Strategy does not consider how issues around discrimination will be tackled. It would be helpful if the LSC could consider how future services funded by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights will interact with CLACs, CLANS and individual providers.
A CLS Strategy for Wales
A number of the Strategy’s proposals may not be applicable in Wales or may not be suitable for the structures and ethos that has developed around service planning in Wales. Citizens Advice notes that there is an intention to produce a policy paper on Wales and would hope that the following points are taken into account by that paper.
- Neighbourhood Renewal Areas are not applicable to Wales so it is unclear which areas of Wales would be seen as initial priorities for CLACs.
- The National Stakeholder Group concept seems to run counter to the direction of the strategies developed by the Welsh Assembly. For example the thought behind Communities First is that designing of services should take a community-based approach
- There is much closer networking between agencies within Wales, particularly at a national level and any proposals regarding the success of delivering services across categories of law would need to reflect this.
In July 2005 the National Forum for the CLS in Wales produced a consultation document on an advice strategy for Wales. There are elements of that document which seems to be at odds with proposals in the CLS Strategy (for example a continuing key role for CLSPs). It would be helpful if the proposed Policy Paper could explain how any differences will be reconciled.
5. Do you support the proposal to establish a national stakeholders group? Do you have any comments on the initial remit & proposed membership as outlined in paras 5.3 and 5.4?
With some caveats Citizens Advice does support the establishment of a national stakeholders group. The existence of this group should contribute to more effective planning, promote partnership working and also raise the profile of advice. We would urge the LSC to set this group up as soon as is practicable so that in can feed into the Strategy and the impending policy papers as soon as possible. Citizens Advice would recommend that:
- The Stakeholder Group must include the providers of advice. Apart from the knowledge, skills and experience that providers bring it is important that they are involved at the CLS table if they are to feel truly committed to the CLS and its aims.
- To tackle concerns regarding conflicts of interest, funders sitting on the National Stakeholder Group could have a separate sub-committee
- Further consultation should be carried out with appropriate organisations to ensure that client representation at this level is meaningful
- The relationship between the regions and the National Group must be clearly defined. Unless this is managed carefully then the planning of services could become too focused at the centre with insufficient focus placed on the specific characteristics of local areas and the needs of local people.
6. Do you agree that the planning function of CLSPs should be undertaken by a different body? Do you agree that the appropriate body should be agreed between the LSC and local authorities (Para 5.6)?
Although many bureaux have been active participants in CLSPs there is recognition within the service that the majority of CLSPs have, for a variety of reasons, not been able to fulfil their role. In areas where CLSPs are not functioning successfully Citizens Advice would support the creation of a new planning body. In work around this subject Citizens Advice would like to see:
- The separation of the planning and commissioning functions. This would ensure that the local body could take advantage of the experiences of providers by including them fully in planning discussions and avoid advice providers’ involvement in discussions around allocation of funding
- Simple and transparent systems – possibly with a limited number of models for the new planning body. Otherwise we could all be faced with a multitude of different systems in each region of the country.
- Consultation between all stakeholders regarding the most appropriate planning body, not just discussions between the Local Authority and LSC.
- Recognition that conflicts of interest may still exist where Local Authorities are a major advice providers
- Consideration of the types of dedicated resources required for local bodies to undertake key planning and needs assessment functions, as well as local strategic action.
The paper suggests that LSPs may be the appropriate planning body in many regions. While this will be the case in some areas it should not be promoted blindly as the easy solution – some LSPs exist merely as ‘tick box’ exercises, others do not have an advice focus and in rural areas the LSP does not involve an advice providers or funders. If an LSP is an inappropriate body then it is possible that advice within an area could become marginalized.
7. Para 6.3 outlines steps to ensure that appropriate resourcing is available for the CLS. Are there others steps that the LSC should take?
We welcome the LSC’s attempts to address the issue of resourcing for the CLS. For the past five years, CLSP Strategic Plans have often identified the advice needs of an area and methods of meeting those needs but have not taken the additional step of identifying suitable funding. The LSC can obviously influence funding on specialist services but they have not had the same success with improving resources for generalist services. Attempts to address this issue are to be supported and we would raise the following additional points.
It is important to ensure that any steps taken do not lead to the displacement of funding from existing, successful services that are meeting needs unless it can be proved that those needs plus additional ones would be met by the new service. The LSC must make it very clear to other funders exactly what legal aid expenditure can fund. The CLS cannot get into a position where other funders choose to no longer fund some services because they mistakenly believe that LSC funding is an equivalent.
The paper says that tough decisions have to be made regarding funding and that resourcing decisions will be taken in the context of ensuring that ‘we are improving services for all.” Ostensibly this is a reasonable aim but the LSC must clarify what measures they will use to assess whether this is the end result of funding decisions.
The LSC should also take advantage of the wealth of information that Citizens Advice and others have that could be used to back up the case for additional funding for the CLS. In addition to evidence from bureaux Citizens Advice has a number of accessible publications and pieces of research, which could be used in arguing for greater support of the CLS. This underlines the need to involve us as a key partner in shaping the Strategy from now on.
8 . Do you agree with the three priority work areas for the CLS as outlined in para 7.1, If not, what should the priority work areas be?
These are the three areas that all those involved in the CLS would acknowledge as being key to meeting the aims of the CLS. What is less certain is whether the LSC should be actively involved in all of them. This point is raised because while the question refers to the CLS, the statement in the papers says “ we have identified 3 priority areas for our work in developing the CLS.” This once again highlights the need to differentiate between the LSC and the CLS and also makes it difficult to answer the question definitively. A Citizens Advice response would also vary depending on how funding would be prioritised between these three areas; but the strategy lacks this level of detail. 9. 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 (paras 7.12 – 7.17) Telephone services have a key role to play in improving access and also offering a service to those who would prefer to access advice via the telephone and from this perspective Citizens Advice would support this development. There are some concerns held by bureaux and also challenges for the LSC that it would be helpful for the LSC to address.
Complementary not a replacement
It is vital that the introduction of this service is not seen as a replacement for face-to-face services. There is research to indicate that there are clients who wish to access advice via the telephone, however a proportion of these will only want to use the phone as the initial access point, not as the only method of interacting with their adviser. There are those clients for whom the telephone is unsuitable this may be for reasons of language, disability, confidence or health. There are also problems that for a variety of reasons cannot be dealt with via the telephone. It cannot be assumed that a service such as this negates the need for adequately funded outreach services or the use of video links/webcams in more remote areas.
Impact on Other Services
The LSC’s vision of advice provision involves a number of different services all of which are, “….supported by the existing network of general advice agencies.” (6.6) If these services are as key as the LSC suggests then it is essential that the funding of generalist services be protected. It must be made clear to other advice funders that an expanded CLS Direct should not be seen as a justification for cutting funding to local generalist services.
A suitable model In the designing of this expanded service the LSC needs to look not just at large scale telephone services such as NHS Direct but national telephone services that already operate in the advice market such as National Debtline, Shelterline and Consumer Direct. These services will all bring unique and relevant experiences that can inform the further development of CLS Direct. The NHS Direct model cannot necessarily be simply transferred into the CLS, as there are key differences. For example the CLS is funded by a range of funders, the NHS is not. Provision of emergency services within the NHS is significantly different to the provision and availability of emergency services within the CLS.
To ensure client focus it is essential that the triage end of CLS Direct be carefully designed. We would hope that certain call centre attributes – such as strictly limited call lengths and the use of untrained and low paid staff with an over reliance on computer based information will be avoided.
Direct Referral System
This is a huge challenge for CLS Direct and as has been seen with the expansion of National Debtline and the discussions around the Debt Gateway not one that is easily solved. Even with the use of appropriate technology the need for co-operation from all providers and ensuring absolutely up to date information will be hard. Involvement of advice networks in tackling this issue will be essential.
The LSC must ensure that this service does not duplicate the work of existing national telephone helplines, for example those currently providing debt advice. The LSC has made it clear that it wants to see a more planned and strategic approach to the planning and delivery of services within the CLS. For this reason it will need to consider very carefully how such a service would interact with existing, established national telephone advice services.
It is unclear what ‘a basic level of service available to all’ would offer, achieve and at what cost. If as seems to be the case this basic service would largely take the form of self-help packs then it would only be appropriate for the literate and the confident. This group could be (and are) served by existing services such as Citizens Advice’s Advice Guide, National Debtline and other sources of self-help information. It is important that the LSC’s efforts in this area do not duplicate existing work but provide additionality.
10. Do you agree that over time we should develop the greatest concentration of face-to-face services in the most deprived communities (paras 7.18 – 7.21)?
Citizens Advice has considerable concerns over this proposal. While we recognise that the need for advice in these areas will be high this approach fails to take account of individuals’ needs relying instead on geographical areas to define advice needs. The negative impact of this proposal could be most keenly felt in rural areas as explained below.
Area Based Initiatives are something that the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs have been looking to move away from precisely because individuals not places suffer from poverty and exclusion. Whilst many of these individuals may live in clusters in urban areas, in rural areas they are mostly scattered as disadvantage lies side by side with affluence making it even harder to target individuals who may be in need of support and help. The LSC believe that it is reasonable to expect clients to travel to an appropriate provider, “just as they would for healthcare and other professional services.” (6.6) While this may be relatively easy for those living in urban areas with comprehensive public transport systems it is not the case for those in rural areas. There is a lack of public transport in rural areas and where it does exist, it is frequently expensive. While car ownership, on average, is higher in rural areas, in practice this is because there are large numbers of households that own several cars as well as, many others that have no private transport. In many one-car households, the car is taken out by one member of the family to work, leaving the rest of the household with no access to private transport. Where transport is available, given the nature of rural roads considerable time is needed to travel what appear to be short distances. The health analogy on this point in the consultation is not helpful. While people in rural areas do travel to access health services there are 3458 GP surgeries in villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings, enabling individuals to access health services. The number of legal services available in these areas would be significantly fewer. Furthermore given the recognition of transport difficulties by the health service, patient transport schemes operate to get patients to the health services at as little cost as possible to the patient. Furthermore, ambulances and paramedics respond to emergencies in rural areas within set target times.
While the LSC acknowledges that advice provision in rural areas has specific problems (3.8) these have clearly not been addressed. We would recommend that an additional Policy Paper on advice within rural areas be produced.
11. Do you agree with the proposals to pilot CLACs and CLANs (paras 7.22 – 7.32)? Do you agree with their proposed remits and the broad descriptions of the services that they will provide? CLACs
Yes we would support the piloting of CLACs. This would hopefully indicate whether such a model would be one way of tackling the problems of referral. From its description this service would aim to deal with the client’s problems in their entirety and clearly this holistic approach is something that Citizens Advice advocates. We would suggest that there are three risks arising from the CLACs proposal
Impact on existing services
In areas where CLACs are piloted there is a danger that other funders, including Local Authorities may see the CLAC as an excuse to reduce funding to existing advice services. This could lead to a reduction in local, established and trusted services and could lead to the second risk.
Over Concentration of service
It would be inappropriate for a CLAC to be the only service in an area for a number of reasons.
- The size of a CLAC needed to serve a major community would surely be too unwieldy and make it difficult if not impossible to guarantee quality across the organisation.
- There would also be a greater degree of risk in placing all streams of advice funding in one service. In the event of any problems with a funding stream or any type of management/staffing problem that affected the service on offer, clients would have no alternative service available locally. Without a range of services clients would be unable to exercise any degree of choice and the problems of conflict of interest (between clients) would become harder to resolve
- An element of ‘healthy competition’ between advice providers would be lost along with its benefits – currently services cannot become complacent and must remain competitive and also innovative
There is a range of problems associated with consortia working and these would need to be tackled. Problems would include responsibility for reception/access to the CLAC; ensuring that membership requirements of all participants were met; agreeing consistency of casework management systems; legal and financial responsibilities and issues surrounding regulation by the Legal Services Board (as proposed in the White Paper on Legal Services Regulation). I f it were considered appropriate to have a lead supplier in a CLAC then they would need expertise in both gateway and triage delivery.
The details of how CLANs would work and which services they would include are limited and it is therefore difficult to comment on their remit. Citizens Advice would however support the basic idea, as there is clearly the potential to enable providers to work together more effectively for the good of clients. We would welcome more detail on this proposal and would make the following suggestions
- The role of the lead supplier in terms of financial and legal responsibility needs to be clearly spelt out
- There will need to be clear incentives to operate as the lead supplier, if the only financial incentive will cover the additional administration requirements then it is unlikely that providers would be keen to take on this role as the responsibility would outweigh the reward
- Where there is no lead supplier it will need to be clear how the CLAN will successfully deliver. In general partnership working requires resource and support and CLANs will need some element of this if they are not to just replicate existing providers groups
12. Do you agree that there should be an increasing presumption in favour of services that work across several categories of social welfare law? (Paras 7.33 & 7.34)
This proposal is partially welcomed as it recognises that clients do not always have simply defined problems. Key benefits include:
- For clients they will be more likely to have all their problems dealt with by one provider
- For providers a logical development of this would be the creation of a generic social welfare law quality mark. This would facilitate the provision of holistic advice for clients and reduce bureaucracy.
Citizens Advice would not want to see a situation where this proposal was taken to its extreme and:
- Large-scale single category services are lost to the community. These will be large scale precisely because demand for advice in that category is high and it seems a mistake to lose these services when they are providing good quality services and have potentially developed good working relationships with other suppliers and other organisations. In many cases these services may well have tackled the problem of referral and problem clusters by arranging for other specialist providers to run outreach services from their offices.
- Smaller, rural providers who are less likely to be in a position to move towards working across three categories of law due to problems with recruitment and supervision are lost, leading to a further erosion of the already limited services that are available in rural areas.
- Diverse NfP agencies offering both specialist and generalist services were reduced. Some bureaux for example have a mixed source of funding and if they were to lose their single/dual contracts and thus their specialist funding there could be a knock on effect on the sustainability of their other services which could in turn lead to the loss of the generalist service. Bearing in mind the Strategy’s acknowledgement of the need for generalist services (6.6) this would cause significant problems for the CLS.
13. Do you agree that the CLS should put more resources into taking strategic action? What other approaches could be taken beyond those outlined in paras 7.37 – 7.47?
One of the twin aims of the CAB Service is, “to exercise a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services both nationally and locally.”, and Citizens Advice therefore welcomes the recognition that Strategic Action (social policy) is a key part of the CLS. To ensure that existing funding is not affected Citizens Advice would support the establishment of a new, separate pot of money to fund this type of activity. Other areas of central and local government could be encouraged to contribute to this if it can be demonstrated to them where savings would occur in terms of court costs and defending individual proceedings.
No single organisation can be chosen to lead on this type of work and if the CLS is to remain true to its definition then it would be inappropriate and unhelpful for the LSC to decide who would be the lead body. On many occasions the policy issue itself will indicate which organisation is more suitable to take the lead. In addition different organisations will have different strengths in the areas of policy work and campaigning and any piece of work should play to those strengths and their track record.
The LSC would have a role in Strategic Action and we feel that its contributions would be key in:
- Persuading other funders of the value of this type of work as this could increase the amount of resource available to make real change where systems or services are not working.
- Considering the inclusion of a social policy element within the new contract, which would enable a proportion of this work to count towards contract targets. It is our experience that strategic action can help many more clients and potential clients than individual advice and this could be a way of getting an early win in orientating the CLS to help more people. It would also demonstrate the LSC’s commitment to this area of work.
- Working closely with providers to highlight problems with other government departments. If the LSC could enter into discussions with departments about problems that were occurring and back this up with detailed evidence from providers then it is possible that change would occur more quickly.
14. What other ways can the LSC promote information about legal rights and responsibilities (paras 7.48 – 7.52)?
The advice sector has several products and services that are sources of information for consumers, some of which are attracting significant levels of usage. For example, the Adviceguide website (developed and run by Citizens Advice in collaboration with Citizens Advice Scotland and NIACAB) now gets over 300,000 visits a month, which generate well over 1 million page views.
Collaborative initiatives on services have been enthusiastically welcomed by central government departments such as the ODPM and its E-Government Unit, a recent example being that between the e-CLS Direct and Adviceguide teams.
In promoting wider access to public information in this area, we would strongly recommend that the LSC look to working more closely with advice providers to
- Strengthen the collaborative approach to providing public information services
- Identify, and then remedy, gaps in the provision of such services
- Take account of existing access and public information strategies
- Harness the strengths of the different organisations, including trusted brand names
- Build on existing partnerships
Finally, the LSC should look at the work being done within the wider civil society and NGOs and the skills learning sectors, to develop the concept of public legal education.
15. Have we identified the key issues in developing appropriate links between the social welfare areas of the CLS, Children and family services and the Criminal Defence Service? (Paras 8.1 – 8.11) What other steps could be taken to facilitate these links?
Citizens Advice welcomes the recognition that these links need to be created and we would support some of the suggestions made in this section. Citizens advice would challenge any assumptions that family specialists could deliver specialist debt advice without access to training, supervision and specialist support. It would be detrimental to clients if debt advice comes to be regarded as simple in comparison to family advice
The need for these types of links is clearly illustrated by the problems created by ASBOs. By the very nature of the fact that ASBOs mix criminal and civil justice they make it impossible for suppliers such as housing providers to offer a holistic service. More seamless links between social welfare and CDS providers would therefore be welcomed.
Encouraging suppliers to work together more closely is key to developing these links and unfortunately this is quite a challenge. There is a wide group of advice providers – family solicitors, criminal solicitors, social welfare solicitors, generalist NfP agencies and specialist NfP agencies and there is sometimes mistrust, misunderstanding and suspicion between these players. If these can be overcome then links would develop naturally as they have in some parts of the country (often through nothing more complex than a local solicitor being a trustee of a local CAB). The LSC should consider how meetings between these different suppliers could be facilitated. While the time taken to do this would not result in measurable casework time the long-term benefits for clients would be significant. To this end it would be worth revisiting the allowances that were made for holders of telephone contracts in the early days of CLS Direct to do promotional work. A similar initiative to encourage understanding of the work done by different providers could be highly beneficial.
Social Policy contact: James Sandbach James.Sandbach@citizensadvice.org.uk
Sophie Brookes Sophie.Brooks@citizensadvice.org.uk