A free telephone and web-based national advice service was launched in July by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). The scheme aims to provide answers to common legal problems for anyone across England and Wales, and offers additional help to those eligible for legal aid.
The Community Legal Service Direct (CLSD) scheme, an amalgam of existing services already provided by the LSC, brings together varied initiatives, consisting of a new national information and advice helpline, a legal information website, a community legal service directory line and a series of information leaflets.
The website covers all legal topics and has the added advantage of helping users to find their nearest legal adviser. The telephone helpline answers questions to common legal problems and guides callers to finding further sources of help in their local area. Additionally, for those eligible for legal aid, the service provides free telephone advice and potentially full casework led by a qualified legal adviser, covering diverse areas such as welfare benefits, debt and education issues.
The CLSD was first mooted as a response to the Access to Justice Act in April 2000, which looked at alternative methods of delivering legal advice. Roger Hamilton, legal director of the LSC, said research undertaken by independent researchers and an in-house team over three years showed that telephone services were “a popular and satisfying” way to reach all levels of the community in less time than traditional face-to-face advice.
“Following a pilot scheme, we decided to roll out telephone advice more widely and brought together all our alternative services into one overall brand,” added Hamilton.
The initiative is funded through legal aid and the Community Legal Services at a cost of £3m a year. Providers of the advice, a diverse group ranging from Citizens Advice Bureaux, not-for-profit organisations and solicitors, originally tendered for the work. The tendering process saw an initial group of 40 advice-providers whittled down to a final 10.
Chief executive of the Stoke-on-Trent Citizens Advice Bureau Simon Harris, who became involved in the initiative at pilot stage, said the telephone base offered accessible advice, reaching those who normally would be at work and not able to come into the centre. “The scheme offers services where there was previously no service,” he said. “It provides opportunities to plug any gaps. For example, there was no education advice in Stoke at all until the phone service began.”
Following a successful launch, Hamilton has high hopes for the scheme. “The next step is to expand the service and to begin to take on other areas such as employment and housing,” he said.