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Consumers at risk of disadvantage

People often purchase legal services at times of stress. Therefore, no matter how experienced a consumer may be, their individual circumstances may make them vulnerable. A range of factors, including physical and mental ability, language skills, financial constraints, or other personal situations, can directly contribute to a consumer being at risk of disadvantage. If legal service providers cannot understand and respond appropriately, people may not access the legal services that they need.

There is a lack of data on how different circumstances affect access to legal services. To help address this situation, the Panel plans to partner with a range of organisations to explore how different groups of consumers experience legal services. The focus of these targeted studies is on three main themes:

  • What circumstances contribute to members of a specific consumer group being at risk of disadvantage;
  • Are the needs of the group in questionare being met;
  • If not, what practical steps could be taken by the profession and regulators to improve the situation.

The first study focused on consumers with hearing loss and the Consumer Panel partnered with Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority in order to commission the research. In October 2011, the Deaf Studies Trust was commissioned to undertake the consumer research and the independent research report, Legal Choices – Silent Process, can be found below. As a result of the research, the Panel has written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to urge them to clarify who should pay for sign language interpreter services when clients are not funded through legal aid.


The Panel has also adopted British Standard 18477 to help us recognise the needs of consumers in vulnerable positions and represent their interests effectively. As part of this effort, we have written to the approved regulators and a range of public and private organisations in the sector to urge them to join us in adopting the standard.

In autumn 2012 the Panel carried out a review of the processes followed by asylum seekers in the UK and identified a need for further research.  The research raised concerns in two areas: access to legal advice and quality of legal advice.  The Panel has advised the approved regulators to carry out further research in these areas with the aim of gathering comprehensive and up-to-date information, and identifying how any problems or gaps found in these areas might best be tackled.

In July 2013 the Panel, working in collaboration with the Legal Services Board and Mencap, published research into the needs of legal services consumers with learning disabilities. This was carried out by the Norah Fry Research Centre (part of the University of Bristol).  The study found that a lack of experience in dealing with people with learning disabilities means lawyers may struggle to provide this vulnerable client group with the specialist support they need. The study looked at the experiences of people with learning disabilities and family carers. The researchers also carried out interviews with legal professionals.

You can read the full report below.  There is also an Easy Read version of the report and a short film which explains the main findings. In addition, the Consumer Panel has produced a fact sheet with a summary of key needs and practical advice for legal advisors.

View the short film on 'what happens when people with learning disabilities need advice about the law' here:

Key Documents

Date Title Description
29 July 2013 What happens when people with learning disabilities need advice about the law - Easy Read (pdf 1MB) Easy Read version of the report on experiences of people with learning disabilities
29 July 2013 What happens when people with learning disabilities need advice about the law - full report (pdf 1.26MB) Independent research carried out by the Norah Fry Research Centre on the experiences of people with learning disabilities, and family carers, who need to access legal advice
29 July 2013 Fact sheet: consumers with learning disabilities (pdf, 177kb) A summary of the needs of consumers with learning disabilities who need to use a lawyer, practical advice for advisors and links to further resources
04 February 2013 Fact sheet: Deaf consumers (pdf, 189kb) A brief summary of the needs of deaf consumers when accessing legal services, along with practical advice for advisors and links to further resources
04 February 2013 Fact sheet: Asylum seekers (pdf, 172kb) A brief overview of the difficulties faced by asylum seekers when trying to access and utilise legal services, challenges for legal advisors, and links to further resources
22 January 2013 Research specification: Understanding the needs of legal services consumers with learning disabilities (pdf, 458kb) Specification for consumer research about the experiences of people with learning disabilities when using legal services
15 October 2012 Research note: Immigration and asylum services (pdf, 303kb) The Panel's research note on the processes followed by asylum seekers in the UK
28 May 2012 Consumer Panel urges legal sector to show commitment to vulnerable consumers (pdf, 69kb) The Consumer Panel writes to the approved regulators and a range of public and private organisations in the sector to urge them to join us in adopting British Standard 18477 on vulnerable consumers
29 March 2012 Legal Choices - Silent Process (pdf, 668kb) Independent research by the Deaf Studies Trust on the experiences of deaf and hard of hearing consumers of legal services
27 March 2012 Letter to Equality and Human Rights Commission (pdf, 97kb) Letter from the Panel Chair to the Equality and Human Rights Commission about who should pay for sign language interpreter services
4 November 2011

Understanding the needs of legal services consumers with hearing loss (pdf, 311kb)

Specification for consumer research about the experiences of deaf and hard of hearing people when obtaining legal services