Consumer Panel’s New Strategy, New Direction

This article is part of LeO News, edition 25.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel’s strategy Away Day was, not surprisingly, our first virtual one (following a series of virtual Panel meetings from April onwards), with members joining from various parts of England and Wales.  It was also possibly one of the liveliest in recent years, made even more so by guest appearances from Sheila Kumar (CEO of CLC), Paul Philip (CEO of SRA), Shona Alexander (CEO of Citizens Advice Newcastle) and Elisabeth Davies (Chair of OLC). And, for the first time in the Panel’s history, we decided to align our strategic objectives with those of the Legal Services Board (LSB): Fairer Outcomes, Stronger Confidence and Better Services.

We are very proud of our independence, from the LSB as well as from the front-line regulators, and there was a lively debate about the pros and cons of this approach. It was a close call, but in the end the Panel concluded that the alignment approach was appropriate, given that the LSB had made such a compelling case for a sector wide strategy.  We are impressed with the breadth and depth of the LSB’s ten year strategy, its three year plan, its one year focus, and the description of the challenges that lie ahead.  

The Panel is also very keen to see regulators collaborate and partner with each other on particular issues, and indeed with other external stakeholders who may be best placed to deliver on some of the regulatory objectives.

Does the Panel’s alignment with the LSB’s strategy mean that we agree with all the deliverables under each high-level objective or the prioritisation of each deliverable?  Not quite.  Our recent consultation response to the LSB’s strategy highlights areas of divergence and signals our determination to continue to advise and challenge the LSB when appropriate.

For example, in that consultation response, we cautioned the LSB against prioritising its limited resources on exploring whether Legal Expenses Insurance can address unmet legal needs, suggesting instead that during and immediately after the pandemic the oversight regulator should focus on the pressing needs of vulnerable consumers, for whom such insurance is in many cases irrelevant and in most cases out of reach.  

This is the time to engage and form partnerships with frontline advisory organisations. It is the time to understand, in greater depth, where vulnerable consumers are feeling the pinch the most. And crucially, it is the time for collective action to ensure that access to legal services does not worsen for communities who have already been left behind.  

Sarah Chambers