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Commitment, capacity and care: Vulnerable clients

2021 will no doubt be a year which is dedicated to recovery, restoration, improvement and advancement in all aspects of our working and (quite possibly) personal lives. The legal profession as any other, will continue to work extremely hard to tackle the challenges which the pandemic has brought to our desks! However, our focus will remain the same - our clients.

Our commitment to providing a high standard of service, treating people fairly and acting transparently will not be compromised especially as the impact of legal services on the lives of people (particularly vulnerable individuals/groups) has become clearer than ever before.

Access

The new Coronavirus Act was introduced in March 2020 and some law firms quickly recognised that the COVID-19 crisis had the potential to disproportionately disadvantage some of the most vulnerable in society. As organisations around the country began to dust off their business continuity plans, Heads of Departments in most law firms regrouped to ensure that the ability of vulnerable people to access justice and legal advice during the pandemic was not hindered by the impact of the new measures. 

As we step into 2021 some law firms will undoubtedly continue to develop new models of providing services and greater access for vulnerable persons. During the pandemic, here at Emsleys we ‘met’ with our clients via the wonders of video conferencing facilities, sharing screens through Microsoft Teams and Zoom, by email and of course the good old fashioned telephone! The potential that technological advancement has offered in widening access to legal services has been nothing short of incredible. 

It goes without saying that we would always prefer to meet our clients over a coffee at our offices, but we understand that (putting the pandemic crisis aside for one moment) sometimes the abilities or circumstances of our vulnerable clients may require us to take extra precautions in the way that we provide our services to ensure they are not disadvantaged in any way.

It is important that we do not forget that while technology certainly gives us a platform to reach out to individuals all over the world, sometimes those in front of us need the most help. The legal profession should be committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable parts of society are protected and we recognise that our vulnerable clients are entitled to the same high standard of service, clear advice and accessibility.   

A person with a vulnerability is usually described as someone who is at a higher risk of harm than others. There are a number of characteristics and considerations which can indicate risk factors that could make an individual more vulnerable. Equally our experience tells us that there can be situations which suggest vulnerability. 

Services for Vulnerable Clients

We can provide a range of advice to assist vulnerable clients and also their support network such as families and carers, including:

Wills – New research from by the Law Society in December 2020 unveiled that that there was an increase in the number of people who made or updated their Will during the first UK-wide COVID-19 lockdown, indicating a commitment to putting their affairs in order. This trend continues as the pandemic has made people reflect on how vital it is to be prepared for the future.

Court of Protection / Deputyship – There has been an increase in applications for the appointment of a property and affairs deputy to manage the finances of a person who lacks mental capacity to handle their own affairs.

We have also seen an increase in the number of cases involving financial abuse of the elderly. The breakdown in relations and the increased use of online banking amongst other factors all contribute to this issue. Although any individual can be at risk of financial abuse, age, disability, cognitive impairment and poor mental health may make an individual more vulnerable. Our practitioners are skilled in identifying any warning signs of financial abuse of the elderly and the steps they can take where such abuse is exposed.   

Misuse of powers of attorney – This is another area where legal intervention is often necessary to protect vulnerable persons. The abuse of a power of attorney is not always blatantly clear and will usually require investigative steps to be undertaken by a professional who is an expert in uncovering the truth behind transactions and deals which do not benefit the donor. We always act sensitively in these situations and tailor our case plans depending on the issues at hand. We will also reach out to other parties  such as Adult Social Care or the Office of the Public Guardian where required to ensure the vulnerable adult is cared for during this time.  

Housing – We anticipate a rise in possession proceedings in 2021 and advice for both landlords and tenants facing eviction will become key. During the pandemic we saw weekly changes to the legal framework of possession cases brought by COVID-19.  While we now have more clarity about the rules, this remains an everchanging area which is set to impact more people in the coming months.

Safeguarding

Our appointed Head of Safeguarding works in collaboration with our lawyers to ensure that vulnerable clients receive the same level of support and our services make a positive impact in these situations. Our Wills & Probate and Family Law departments in particular have adapted their practices to identify and meet the needs of clients where safeguarding issues might be at play. We have vast experience in dealing with individuals who might lack mental capacity to make decisions, or are vulnerable due to undue influence or duress.   

If necessary, we will prepare a safeguarding plan setting out our vulnerable clients’ support needs, their wishes, actions to be taken and by whom. The safeguarding plan is kept under review and amended as may be necessary to include details of any ongoing or new risks and how they are to be managed.

We remain committed to supporting our clients and as we (hopefully) near the end of what has been an incredibly difficult period, we look forward to welcoming you all to Emsleys with our best legal teams on board to work with and for you.

Gurpreet Birdi

Written by

Gurpreet Birdi

Associate Director

Gurpreet is an Associate Director. She is a solicitor in our Dispute Resolution team with significant expertise in civil and commercial disputes. She specialises in contested wills and probate, financial service litigation and professional negligence.

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