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Largest ever legal needs survey in England and Wales

25 May 2016

In the largest ever survey of legal needs in England and Wales, more than 8,000 people responded to Ipsos-MORI's questions about how they dealt with a range of legal issues. A separate and smaller study surveyed 161 young people (11-15 year olds) on their understanding and experience of legal issues.

In the main survey, legal issues raised included wills, probate, conveyancing, consumer rights, arrest, debt and more complex legal concerns, such as relationship breakdown. Key findings of the main survey include:

  • 54 per cent of all those who responded had experienced at least one legal issue in the last three years.
  • Respondents were most likely to have had a consumer rights issue (33 per cent among those with at least one issue), bought or sold a home (21 per cent), made a will or dealt with the estate of a deceased relative (20 per cent and 17 per cent respectively).
  • Disputes with neighbours (16 per cent), problems with benefits (16 per cent), debt/money problems (13 per cent) and problems with an employer (12 per cent) were also common issues. Only 3 per cent had been arrested. - Over three quarters of respondents who chose to seek advice were satisfied with both the quality of formal legal advice given (77 per cent) and the outcome (78 per cent).
  • 67 per cent of issues (which were legal in nature) were not initially thought of as 'legal' issues.
  • Respondents tackled their problems in a variety of ways; 35 per cent obtained legal advice; and 15 per cent got help from family or friends. 34 per cent of respondents tried to tackle them alone while 13 per cent did nothing.

President of the Law Society Jonathan Smithers commented:

'This survey, the largest of its kind ever undertaken in England and Wales, highlights the benefits of obtaining expert legal advice, the need to raise awareness among the public of legal issues and how people can access legal advice when they need it.

'Access to legal advice is a fundamental right, essential to democracy and a cornerstone of justice. Public knowledge of legal rights is essential to a healthy society and education on rights and responsibilities should begin at school. Children and young people told Ipsos MORI that they would like to learn about their legal rights in the classroom.

'The survey reveals that people who believed their legal issue was serious were more likely to seek advice. For 77 per cent of issues, people who chose to seek legal advice were satisfied with both the quality of legal advice and outcomes after obtaining it. People who didn't take any action didn't attempt to find out what their rights were or how they might deal with the majority of legal issues they encountered.

'Awareness of legal aid eligibility is low. People surveyed did not understand which issues were covered by legal aid and how to get advice on issues. For example, around half of respondents did not know legal aid could be available for domestic violence issues and relationship breakdown. This impacts on the most vulnerable in our society who may find themselves trapped in violent relationships.

Protection and redress for those accessing legal services is not even. The most trained and qualified providers are the most regulated while those who may have no formal legal training may be unregulated. This can be confusing and can result in people not making informed decisions about the legal services they buy. For 70 per cent of issues, it was assumed the provider of that advice was regulated, but they didn't know how to check if the provider was regulated nor did they understand what regulation meant.

'The survey reveals the complexity and diversity of legal needs. It provides information and insight to solicitors that will support their continued efforts to improve their services and better meet the legal needs of the public.

'The results of this survey will help legal-service providers and government better understand the legal needs of the public'

The Legal Services Board's (LSB) chairman, Sir Michael Pitt, said: 

 'Access to justice is a fundamental right but many people do not seek legal advice for a variety of reasons.

'Lack of information on legal rights and what legal services are available, the assistance they could provide, as well as preconceived expectations of the cost of legal services are among the main factors that influence whether legal advice is sought. This research co funded by the Law Society confirms the findings of previous LSB research.

'While only a minority of respondents with a legal problem did nothing about it, (13 per cent of issues), formal advice was sought for just 35 per cent of problems, with the majority of issues being handled alone or with help from friends or family.

'There is a wealth of information contained in this extensive and robust legal needs survey. The Legal Services Board and the Law Society are making all of this data freely available on our websites. We hope that anyone with an interest in legal services will use it to help inform policy development going forward, and help us all contribute to a legal services market that delivers better outcomes.'


Notes for editors:

1. Download the legal needs report (PDF 1.1mb)

2. The survey was conducted for the Law Society and the Legal Services Board by Ipsos MORI.

3. In total, 8,192 people gave information about 16,694 separate legal issues (an average of 2.7 legal issues per person).

4. The survey was conducted online with respondents from Ipsos MORI’s online panel, which represents a good spread of respondents from the main demographic groups within England and Wales. Findings across issues have not been weighted to any nationally representative profile.

5. Where the survey refers to formal legal advice this may include from legal professionals, such as solicitors, or advice agencies such as law centres, or other sources of professional advice such as trade unions, local councils.

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body for solicitors that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.

Press contact: Harriet Beaumont | 0207 320 5830 |  

About the Legal Services Board

The Legal Services Act 2007 created the LSB as a new regulator with responsibility for overseeing the regulation of legal services in England and Wales. The new regulatory regime became active on 1 January 2010.

For all LSB media enquiries please call: 020 7271 0068 or email Vincent McGovern.

Download the survey results below.