The PSU provides over 5,000 sessions of support each month through services based in 24 courts across England and Wales. Our team of over 700 give one-to-one emotional and practical support to clients before, during and after court. They ensure those facing court alone feel valued and respected and support them to fully participate in court and better access justice.
The demand for our service is rising. We saw the number of times we help clients increase by 26% last year, cementing our position as a key player in the pro bono community.
We are committed to ensuring the PSU is able to meet demand without any impact on service quality. As a result, we have increased the capacity of the service by increasing the size of our volunteer team by 166 (29%). We have also introduced a regional management structure to ensure each PSU receives the support it needs, and to coordinate our expansion efforts in each region. This has enabled us to maintain a client satisfaction rate of 97%.
To expand our reach we are working with an increasing the number of organisations at the local and national level. Expanding our network widens our impact by increasing awareness of our service and enabling more of those who need us to access our service. It also provides opportunities to collaborate with other agencies to improve access to justice across the region (e.g. through cross-referral partnerships with local law centres).
The need for our work: Every day people face complex legal proceedings. Be it a parent trying to secure contact with their child, a disabled person who has had her benefits wrongly cut, or an 18-year-old born in the UK who is trying to claim her entitlement to British citizenship. For many people these cases have profound, life-changing consequences: they could face being made homeless, falling deeply into debt, being prevented from seeing their children, or being separated from their families.
The need for our work is urgent. Today, more than ever before, people accessing justice face a multitude of barriers and disadvantage following the closure of advice centres, the introduction of tribunal fees, increased court fees and sweeping cuts to legal aid. Following the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in April 2013, most family and social welfare law cases have been taken out of scope for legal aid. Five years later, nearly half a million people a year no longer receive legal advice on employment, housing, welfare and family issues. For the majority of these people, paying for legal support and representation is just not possible - if they want to seek justice, they must do so alone (in a 2016 survey of litigants in person, two thirds lived below the Joseph Rowntree poverty line).
“The PSU meant I wasn't alone, vulnerable and terrified in court. They provide an essential service.” PSU client, 2016
These people must represent themselves in a complex and intimidating court process. What is more they are often up against professional representation and under extreme pressure to represent themselves well given the life-changing outcomes. With so much at stake, they are often overwhelmed and at great risk of getting the wrong outcome in their case. We believe no one should have to go through this time of crisis alone.
We help anyone who comes to us with any aspect of civil or family proceedings. Rising need is reflected in the increased demand for our service: we helped people over 56,100 times in 2016-17.
Over half of the cases we help with are in a family matter (56%) with two thirds of these concerning children. A further 20% of cases involve money or debt; and 14% concern eviction and other housing problems - these often place people at risk of losing their children, homelessness or financial hardship. Other cases we assist with include employment disputes, immigration appeals and challenges over cuts to welfare benefits.
Those facing legal proceedings without support are often the most vulnerable members of society as legal aid cuts have largely affected areas of law associated with poverty and social disadvantage. This is reflected by the personal circumstances of many of those we help: 23% have a serious health problem; 10% are disabled; and 22% speak English as a second language. Only 42% of our clients are employed, some are homeless, and many have literacy issues. These challenges make it even harder for them to engage with the court system and to prepare an effective case.
These people urgently need advice and support if they are to be able to fully participate in their case, have the best possible chance in court and minimise the detrimental impact on their lives. This is where we come in.