Since November 2019 our Family team has been providing remote legal assistance to those in the Plymouth area who need family advice but who are unable to access it. Most family law issues now fall outside the scope of Legal Aid. Pro bono services are very often the only way for people without resources to get any legal advice at all and there is a serious shortage of pro bono services available outside of London. Most of the country is now a legal advice desert for anyone without the means to pay for advice.

The pandemic has made the situation considerably worse. Those who have lost their jobs are even less likely to be able to afford legal advice than they were before. Legal advice centres have had to close temporarily as have other face to face services.  Financial worries and being forced to stay together has put a strain on relationships, and put people at greater risk of domestic violence. 

Our Family team is working with Legal Advice Centre (University House) to provide assistance to users of Plymouth Citizens Advice. The project has been spearheaded by Kerry Stares, our full time Pro Bono Legal Director.  Members of our Family team in Guildford and in London have been advising from their offices pre lockdown (thus avoiding any travel time), and from home since. They have access to client documents via a secure site and either advise on the telephone or via webcam. The clients are assessed by the team at Plymouth Citizens Advice first, and we have provided clarity as to the scope of matters we are able to advise upon. 

The feedback from the users of the service has been very positive. Children issues have been the most common so far, and our busy legal team has found it very satisfying to be able to provide positive support for those who would otherwise have no real idea what their legal rights are and how they would be able to exercise those rights.