The Consumer Panel has long suspected that the language and style of communication in the legal sector may be a barrier to how consumers understand and engage with a service. Not surprisingly we were keen to collaborate with the Approved Regulators on a piece of consumer research which aims to understand what consumers think of the ‘welcome-pack’, formally referred to as the Client Care Letter (CCL). These CCLs are typically sent to clients at the beginning of their case or legal service. Although not a regulatory requirement, they are often used to communicate mandatory regulatory information. For example, consumers are made aware of their routes to redress in CCLs.
The findings of the research have now been published and it’s fair to say that they combine a mix of the predictable and the unanticipated.
We were not surprised to learn that most consumers find CCLs difficult to read, and that this is particularly problematic for vulnerable consumers who didn’t get additional support as a matter of course. Unfortunately the vulnerable consumers interviewed were reluctant to seek support for fear of being labelled ‘stupid’ and incurring more costs. Instead, they turned to informal means of support such as using google to look up expressions or asking friends and family to read letters out to them (unless the issue was of a sensitive or embarrassing nature, in which case people would rather not seek help at all). And in some cases visually impaired consumers used magnifying glasses to read the letter themselves rather than requesting a larger type size. These coping mechanisms often required considerable effort.
One of the more surprising findings of the research is how clear consumers are about what information they want to see prioritised in the CCLs. The consistent message from the research is that most consumers don’t prioritise complaints information. Consumers said that signposting to routes to redress early in the letter could be off-putting or disconcerting. This is not to suggest that consumers do not want or need this information, the point is that most said it did not rank highly in their order of priority. The focus for consumers was very much on the information that was specifically relevant to their own case. Consumers were more interested in information which would enable them to build an understanding of the legal process they were about to undergo. The key questions they wanted the CCL to answer were: What is going to happen? How much is it going to cost? When is it going to happen? What do I have to do? How do I get in touch?
“I want to know the steps that they’re going to take, so that I can refer to them later on and I’d know how they’re progressing.” Vulnerable, Prospective User, Wales
“They should focus on telling me just the essential information at this stage; I’m not bothered about everything else.” Mainstream, Recent User, London
“There should be just a straightforward welcome pack. This is who we are, this is what we do, this is what the case is about. I want the information, but not all in one go. As I said, I sat through it because I want to get it right. It’s just too complicated – why do they have to send everything in one go?” Vulnerable, Recent User, Midlands
The need for the right information, delivered in the right way, at the right time, is a theme that the lies at the heart of the Panel’s work on open data. This is not to suggest that regulatory information is not necessary – far from it in fact. It is rather that there ought to be more consideration around presentation and using other methods over and above standard letters to highlight importance.
This isn’t just about putting more information out there, or risking information overload, but it is about acknowledging that the Approved Regulators now have to balance the need for regulatory information with the information consumers prioritise for themselves and actually need.