Conveyancers Tasked With Improving Services For Disabled Consumers
Over a third of disabled people with a named legal issue over the past four years refused to utilise professional help.
New research suggests that solicitors and law firms need to do more to ensure disabled consumers access legal services.
A Solicitors Regulation Survey found over half of more than 3,500 disabled consumers believe accessing professional services is overly difficult.
In particular, the legal sector was deemed the second most difficult sector with a third (31%) concerned that accessing legal services was too complex.
The report highlighted that law firms need to be aware of less visible impairments and adjust their processes to consider these issues.
Only a third of consumers with mobility issues and hearing or visual impairments experienced difficulties in accessing legal services. Conversely almost half (49.5%) of consumers with mental health issues or learning, social or memory impairments felt isolated by the lack of support from legal service providers.
Overall, 43% of respondents had used or needed to use the services of a solicitor, barrister or conveyancer. Although 36% of respondents with a mobility issue had used a solicitor, this figure dropped to 28% when the impairment concerned memory or mental health.
Unhelpful or inexperienced staff (24%), unclear communication using complex jargon or irrelevant information (18%), not providing alternative communication methods (15%), failing to offer home visit support (15%), poor disabled access (14%) and pre-existing anxieties (22%) were the main barriers preventing disabled users from accessing legal services.
Those that had accessed legal service providers also experienced myriad issues whilst their legal request was being completed. Legalese made the process difficult to navigate for 38% of respondents.
Almost a quarter were given information at the wrong time and in many cases legal issues were not explained in a different way to help the consumer understand. Almost a fifth were bombarded with too much information and 16% perceived the information to be laid out in a confusing way.
15% believe the use of language was a barrier with too many confusing words added to text communication whilst 8% needed the information to be provided in alternative formats like braille, large font or different colours.
Although 61% of consumers accessing legal services felt they were treated fairly or with respect (57%), only 24% felt their needs were taken into account.
Whilst 26% felt their needs were not taken into account, this figure increased exponentially to 39% when the impairment involved memory or mental health issues, suggesting legal service providers need to consider their communication methods.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) recommended easy to navigate websites with a dedicated section for those with disabilities as a potential solution to encourage more disabled consumers to access the services.
Almost three quarters of disabled respondents do not remember being proactively asked if they needed reasonable adjustments; the SRA recommend that law firms promote this.
It was also recommended that law firms highlight if any staff have specific training or experience with disabilities.
Law firms should also offer a clear photograph of the office to allow consumers to familiarise with the surroundings as this could reduce anxiety.
All communications also needed to be accessible for all, presented in a variety of languages, presentations and formats including braille and large fonts.
SRA Chief Executive, Paul Philip, said:
“All solicitors will recognise that disabled people often have multiple, complex and varying needs, that may not be immediately obvious. Accessing legal services can be complex enough without facing such added challenges, which is why it is so important that firms do all they reasonably can to help people overcome any difficulties.
“This research found that while some firms are clearly good at this, others have more to do. The insights should help firms to make the changes needed to support hundreds of thousands of people to access professional legal support when they need it.”
Do you think the legal sector offers enough reasonable adjustments for disabled consumers?