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The Legal Services Commission (LSC) announced today the expansion of its Community Legal Advice helpline to provide family law advice.
The addition of family law advice follows the recent extension to Community Legal Advice's opening hours. Clients can now get help for debt, housing, employment, education and welfare benefits problems between 9.00am and 6.30pm on weekdays and 9.00am and 12.30pm on Saturdays.
As government cuts to family legal aid reduce the number of solicitors doing publicly funded work, telephone advice may become the only option for people who find it difficult to access their local solicitor or advice agency.
Carolyn Regan, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Commission, said: "The Legal Services Commission is investing around £7million over three years in the Community Legal Advice family service. From August, people who need help but can't afford it will be able to call 0845 3454345 to get free help for family related legal problems."
The decision to expand Community Legal Advice to offer family law advice follows a successful pilot. Three thousand calls a month were received by the helpline from people wanting family law advice, 82% of those said the advice they received enabled them to resolve their problem.
The helpline offers a considerable cost saving for the LSC against face-to-face work for one-off pieces of advice. Comparison with data from face-to-face providers shows the average cost of a one-off piece of advice through the telephone helpline was £61.04, which compares with a cost of £108.83 for fixed fee face-to-face work (single meeting, level 1 advice).
The closing date for the submission of tenders from organisations able to offer specialist advice in family law was 27 February 2009 and the LSC received a total of 34 bids.
The contracts have now been awarded to three English and one Welsh firm of solicitors. According to the LSC, the expansion will create approximately forty jobs.
Approximately fifteen positions will be created at Howells Solicitors, who are based in Sheffield. Sue Colven, Head of the Family Department said: "Howells are delighted to have won a contract to provide family telephone advice for Community Legal Advice. The service will enable vulnerable people to get the advice they need, including those who might be put off by the stress or inconvenience of having to visit an advisor in person."
In addition, the service will also be provided by ten legal professionals from the Wakefield head office of Switalskis Solicitors. Switalskis has six offices across West Yorkshire and is the second largest civil legal aid provider in the UK according to recent Ministry of Justice figures. This will be the firm's first Community Legal Advice phone service.
Allan Rutherford Solicitors, will gain approximately seven new roles. The firm is located in the centre of Norwich and they specialise in family work. Katherine McNally, Head of the Family Department said: "Allen Rutherford are delighted to be part of the service which is a new and exciting way of delivering family legal advice to a wide section of the community especially those in remote and rural areas at a time when they need it most."
Approximately seven new positions will also be established in Wales with Morgans Solicitors, who are based in Cardiff, Swansea and Milford Haven. The firm currently provides Community Legal Advice telephone advice in English and Welsh in the categories of debt, employment, housing and welfare benefits.