The Low Commission: consultation with advice funders
Sara Ogilvie, research assistant to the Low Commission, writes:
January meeting
The Low Commission was launched in December 2012 and is investigating the future of advice and legal support on social welfare law issues (see December 2012 Legal Action 8). As part of its evidence-gathering phase, on 23 January 2013 the commission convened a consultation meeting with those who fund the advice sector. Attended by 50 representatives from trusts and foundations, London-based local authorities and City law firms, the event was an opportunity for the commission to hear from funders their perspective on what works well in the sector and to highlight areas where there is scope for improvement. The commission also hoped to learn about different approaches to funding and to encourage further thinking about how advice will be funded in the future, not only as a response to the changes to the legal aid system and cuts in local authority budgets, but also in view of an increased awareness of the links between advice and other areas of spending, such as health. In addition, the commission was interested to hear from City law firms that contribute both funds and experience to support the not-for-profit advice sector about their role in the changing advice environment.
In advance of the event, attendees were sent a short paper outlining the five strategic areas in which the commission currently expects to make recommendations: reducing demand, improving the system, models for delivery, funding sources and making the case for strategic investment.
Emerging themes
Delegates welcomed the commission’s general approach and outlined a number of additional themes that it should investigate. The quality of advice was identified as an issue that should be at the core of the commission’s work.
Various funders also pointed out that the commission would have to pay close attention to the diverse nature of the advice landscape across England and Wales, for example, in rural areas, London and other urban areas, noting that the funding of advice and the impact of national and local policy would vary accordingly. Improving collaboration both within the sector and with partners outside the sector was also highlighted as central to the survival of advice over the coming years.
Attendees identified numerous examples of innovative practice in the delivery and funding of advice, such as where advice is provided in a health setting, particularly targeting those with mental health problems. They also suggested exploring ways in which insurance schemes for local authority and housing association tenants could be used to fund certain types of advice provision.
■ A fuller note of the meeting and the commission’s five strategic areas for recommendations is available at: www.lowcommission.org.uk/documents. The commission is still encouraging written evidence submissions (see also the inside back page of this issue or e-mail: sogilvie@lag.org.uk).

About the author(s)

Sara Ogilvie is policy officer at Liberty. She was a research assistant to the Low Commission on the Future of Legal Advice and Support.