Surviving LASPO: ‘Be creative, be out there’

life beltNow that legal aid is diminished, is it possible to find new sources of public funding for legal advice? Yes, if you work at it, writes Sue Bent.

  • Sue Bent is director of Coventry Law Centre.
  • This blog introduces and explains some of the ideas covered in her presentation at the LASPO survival conference called New Sources of Funding.
  • The Ministry of Justice apparently does not any longer see the value of funding social welfare law advice and, as the sector, we have argued that the cost of this cuts will fall elsewhere. So what opportunities are there to persuade other parts of the public sector that they need our import to prevent them picking up these escalating costs? Where is the new money? What are the government priorities? How do you find this out and keep up to date?
  • Coventry Law Centre has decided not to pursue charging as a response to the cuts in the late–85% of its income comes from the public sector.

New sources of funding

There is ample evidence from research of the impact of expert legal advice in preventing bad outcomes that are costly to the public purse: homelessness or mental ill health are just two examples. It is also relatively easy to make a link between the impact of receiving timely advice and reduced likelihood of, say, re-offending, or perhaps domestic violence.

Demand rising, supply diminishing
We are all aware that the combined impact of welfare reform and the loss of legal aid funding will make legal advice very hard to get. Demand is rising and supply is diminishing. Very soon, other professionals will begin to realise that the people they are working with cannot easily access advice when it is needed. That will cause a problem for them and, in many cases, it will be a barrier to them achieving the outcomes they are working for with their clients. I think this is especially likely to be the case where the client has multiple and complex needs and so is unlikely to wait in a queue at an advice centre. This will mean that it will start to become necessary for those commissioning services for such client groups to include provision for specialist advice as part of the range of interventions.

However, they will only do so if we work to make them aware of the need for it. Commissioners will not always understand the day to day realities and frustrations involved in trying to access services – and they won’t necessarily understand that with the addition of expert advice in the mix they could achieve more and get better outcomes.

So the potential is there but I think you have to be proactive to get results. To be well positioned it is important to be able to evidence your impact: produce high quality annual reports, have lots of examples of case studies, build in evaluation to any project you are funded for – so you can use the results to bid for further funding.

Total solution
It’s also important to form partnerships – and not just with other advice providers. Working with organisations that target the same socially excluded client groups that advice providers seek to help will offer opportunities for collaboration. It is often easier to make a case for funding if your combined expertise provides a total solution. You may also find that non-advice organisations will see the added value your service can bring to a bid they may be writing and so they will want to include you. Your links with them will make you more aware of opportunities and of the challenges and priorities in other services.

Make sure you know what the local priorities are in your area. Funding is contracting but the public sector will direct its spending to local priorities – more often than not to tackle problems and to improve their performance. Think about what role advice could have in sorting out those problems. Keep an eye out for tenders or perhaps bid to a trust fund to pilot an idea and gain support form your local authority or clinical commissioning group that they will fund your service if you can prove its impact.

Be aware of Government priorities and see where funding is being invested. They are reducing public spending but one of the ways they are trying to do it is by tackling problems that cost the state significant amounts of money. They are interested in early intervention and prevention and they are looking for long lasting solutions. Its worth finding out what the agenda is wherever there are new delivery models:

  • Troubled Families
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups in health
  • Health and Wellbeing Boards
  • Public health moving to local authorities
  • Police and Crime Commissioners
  • Privatisation of Probation
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships and City Deals

Some ideas ……

Be creative and be out there. We know what we do is vital – we need to make others recognise it too.

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About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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