Page 5: Social and technological factors
Society has a deep divide between those who have money, education and influence and those who have not. It is part of the government's policy on social exclusion to try to narrow this gap.
Statistics show that legal and social problems tend to hit hardest those people who are least capable of coping with them. If you are a lone parent or unemployed, you are twice as likely to have problems with debt or a landlord as someone who is employed or married (or living with their partner in a stable relationship).
The LSC therefore provides support to any group in society that is at a disadvantage. It helps people obtain their rightful benefits (such as tax credits, school places and human rights) and to have their voices heard. The three mini case studies below show the breadth of the LSC's work.
Case Study 1
Jennifer left her student flat at the end of her University term in June. She had paid a deposit of £400 against damage to the flat or its contents. By November, the landlord had still failed to return the deposit, saying there had been substantial damage to the flat which meant he would keep the deposit. Jennifer knew that there was some damage, but that the new tenants had caused it in September.
She was advised to seek help from the Community Legal Service (CLS). This part of the LSC helps people with civil legal problems such as family breakdown, debt and housing. Jennifer approached the helpline, the legal aid telephone service called Community Legal Advice. The CLS advised Jennifer of her rights and referred her to a legal aid solicitor. The solicitor wrote to the landlord who, faced with the evidence, returned the deposit without the courts having to take action.
Case Study 2
Marek arrived in the UK recently, fleeing from fighting in Bosnia. Although just 17 years old, he has seen many of his family killed and friends disappear. He arrived without permission but wanted to put this right by seeking asylum. In other words, he wanted to make his home here, where he is safe. The LSC helped him find a legal aid solicitor to look into his case.
People can find legal aid solicitors through a community group such as Citizens Advice Bureau or perhaps from the Yellow Pages directory. The solicitor helped prove to the courts that Marek was at risk if he returned home. Marek's right to seek help is part of his human rights. The LSC was able to help him gain legal status and to settle in the UK.
Case study 3
Steve was on a night out in town when a fight broke out outside a nightclub. The police arrived and arrested a number of people, including Steve. He maintained that he had been unwittingly caught up in the problem and was only watching.
Steve did not have a solicitor of his own, so a Duty Solicitor paid for by the LSC as part of the Criminal Defence Service (CDS) helped him. CDS is the arm of the LSC that funds people who are under police investigation or facing criminal charges. Steve, through the work of the Duty Solicitor, was released on bail. Later, when the police reviewed CCTV tapes, they dropped all charges against him.
The pressure on the LSC to be efficient has increased as more cases, especially human rights and asylum cases, have grown in number over the past few years. The LSC continues to develop new technology to enhance efficiency. Over the past 3 years it has begun to accept electronic billing on some types of cases from providers. This has happened as part of the change process at LSC. Its new system monitors particular criteria or factors for each provider to check their efficiency. It looks at:
- quality of service
- percentage of cases won
This use of technology is improving the effectiveness of the LSC and helps improve the welfare of the clients it serves.