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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 characteristics can make them vulnerable. A range of individual 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. Added to that, the particular features of the legal services market, such as barriers to access and difficulty judging quality, can put people at risk.

If regulators, and consequently legal service providers, cannot understand and respond appropriately, then people may not access the legal services they need.

The Panel therefore developed a guide which regulators can use to address vulnerability.  The guide is based on the British Standard BS18477 on Inclusive Service Provision, which we have translated into a legal services setting.  It forms a companion piece to the Panel’s toolkit on the Consumer Principles, particularly expanding on the principles of access and fairness, and can be found below.

Historically, the Panel has also worked to address a lack of data on how different circumstances can affect access to legal services.  We teamed up with different organisations to explore the experiences of consumers. 

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 October 2011, the Deaf Studies Trust was commissioned to undertake the research and the report, Legal Choices – Silent Process, can be found below.

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 advised the approved regulators to carry out further research in these areas to gather comprehensive and up-to-date information, and identify how problems or gaps found might best be tackled.

In July 2013 we worked in collaboration with the Legal Services Board and Mencap, to publish 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. We produced a full report, an Easy Read version and a short film which explains the main findings.

You can find all of our publications below.

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

Key Documents

Date Title Description
15 October 2014 Guide to consumer vulnerability (pdf, 448kb) Tool to help regulators recognise and respond to vulnerable consumers
15 October 2014 Guide to vulnerable consumers - overview (pdf, 123kb) Short two page tool which gives a brief overview of our guide
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



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