In the largest ever survey of legal needs in England and Wales, more than 8000 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), 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 of those surveyed had been arrested.
- 78 per cent of respondents who chose to seek advice were satisfied with both the quality of formal legal advice given and the outcome.
- 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.'
There was also a gap in knowledge when it came to legal aid - for the majority of problems respondents didn't know whether or not legal aid was available and a significant number were unaware of what it is available for.
'The survey reveals that people who believed their legal issue was serious were more likely to seek advice. For 78 per cent of issues, people who chose to seek legal advice were satisfied with both the quality of legal advice and the 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.
'Following recent changes, 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.'