LSB research the steps needed to improve outcomes for people with dementia or mental health problems.
New research commissioned by the Legal Services Board has found that people suffering from dementia or other mental health problems would benefit from “jargon-free” legal services and advice as well as greater cost transparency.
Sixty people with mental health problems and dementia as well as those caring for them were interviewed regarding their own experience with legal services, to help LSB understand what can be done to improve service experience, accessibility and outcomes for vulnerable people.
A lot of respondents said that their legal needs were being met, however they wanted to be provided with more information from their advisers regarding costs, and to communicate legal issues through more simple English.
LSB chief executive Neil Buckley says: “Sometimes little actions can make a great difference to consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable. When providers take simple and practical steps, this can really make a difference to the consumer’s experience. Consumers can also help by speaking to their lawyer about things they could do that would help to make things easier.”
Many of the interviewed people with mental health problems (or their carers) sought free advice from regulated providers or third sector organisations. The most common types of legal issues they have encountered were in wills and trusts, property, and welfare and benefits.
People were apprehensive about using legal services for different reasons: not being able to fully understand technical legal language, being anxious about the likely total cost, and a sense of feeling intimidated by legal professionals.
Where problems with mental health created low-level difficulties when getting legal services, respondents felt happy if they had been provided with opportunities to improve their understanding of the legal information (e.g. provided with repeated explanations and given more time) and if they had been treated with empathy.
Furthermore, they suggested that feeling listened to by a professional and being actively engaged would help them. Continuity of personnel was also an important factor.
The majority of interview respondents sought advice from a solicitor, although some had received advice from third party sectors and used the online application service for lasting power of attorney. The most common types of legal issues faced were power of attorney, wills and trusts, and property.
Those in the early stage said they needed more communication from legal services providers due to struggling with processing and retaining information.
While people with dementia suffered with confusion and memory loss, their carers also felt uneasy due to their age and lack of knowledge and awareness of legal services and mental health problems.
Many interviewees felt more could be improved in relation to the communication of legal issues, including providing plain English written information after consultations. Some people also complained about costs, particularly the cost of a solicitor when completing applications for lasting power of attorneys.
For improving accessibility, respondents suggested “jargon-free” advice should be offered, as well as “dementia friendly” services, and transparency about costs – especially for the cost options when setting up lasting power of attorneys.
Solicitors for the Elderly welcomed the report’s findings. Managing partner at Acorn, Chair David Sinclair said: “Our accreditation ensures professionals have a wealth of training and experience to help put vulnerable people at ease when handling complex legal issues, and we encourage increased awareness and improvement of accessibility for these consumers.”