Sue Chandler looks at recent research for the Legal Services Board, focused on legal services consumers with dementia and mental health problems.
Many consumers can be vulnerable at the time they access legal services. Vulnerability is dynamic and consumers can be vulnerable for a wide range of reasons.
Vulnerabilities can be:
fluctuating, for example, a person may lose their job and suffer anxiety-related health problems through the resulting financial implications; and
permanent, for example, a person may have a health condition, or English is their second language.
Recent research for the Legal Services Board (LSB) focused on consumers with dementia and mental health problems. The studies looked at services used by people with these vulnerabilities (and those caring for them), their experiences and their needs from legal services providers.
Neil Buckley, CEO of the LSB, remarked: “Sometimes small actions can make a big difference to consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable. When providers take simple practical steps this can make a big difference to the consumer experience.
Consumers can help too, for example by telling their lawyer if there are things they could do that would help make things easier for them.”
The key findings from the research are as follows.
There is a clear cluster of legal needs for consumers with dementia. They are: wills, power of attorney and property issues.
Consumers with early stage symptoms are less successful in dealing with information. However, they may not flag this as an issue to their legal services provider.
Carers for people with later-stage symptoms (for example, confusion, memory loss and discomfort in unfamiliar surroundings) are more likely to alert their legal provider to their issues.
The individuals interviewed made clear suggestions for what they would find helpful from legal services providers:
initial phone contact to discuss service adaptations;
clear information before meeting on the legal issue, options and costs, so they could plan for their meeting;
proactive offering of home visits;
‘dementia-friendly’ services (for example, plain English, adaption to meet the individual’s needs, patience and respect); and
a clear written record of the meeting that can be referred to for reference, including follow-up actions.
Watch a short video to help support people with dementia.
Free initial services from third-sector and regulated providers are valued. This is due to affordability, getting initial advice on options and poor past experience of legal advice.
A consumer’s support needs depend on the severity of their problems, but include extra time for individuals to express themselves, extra communication (jargon-free in written and verbal communication) and increased reassurance.
It is important to these consumers to feel listened to and understood, have services adapted to support them, have continuity of personnel and costs transparency.
Watch a short video to help support people with mental health problems.