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31st Oct 2022

Justice Lab to support RCT evaluation of early legal advice

A Ministry of Justice pilot scheme to test the impact of providing up to three hours of legal advice to people with housing, debt and welfare problems has begun.

The £5m Early Legal Advice Pilot will use a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) design to test the benefits of funding in-person or remote advice services for matters outside the scope for legal aid support under current legislation.

The evaluation will be undertaken by an independent consortium led by the National Centre for Social Research and including Justice Lab’s Director Dr Natalie Byrom and other experts from WPI Economics and The Centre for Homelessness Impact.

Commenting on the announcement of the scheme, Dr Byrom said:

Cuts to legal aid have left a significant number of people without help to resolve their housing, debt and welfare issues. This pilot will test the impact of providing one type of early support to those that need it, and strengthen the evidence base for legal advice.

We’re particularly pleased that the scheme will be evaluated using a RCT design. This is a research tool widely deployed in other sectors, most notably medicine, but it’s rarely used in the justice system.

RCTs provide robust evidence to prove whether an intervention is working. This level of evidence is what the sector needs to strengthen existing research on the value of early support.

The pilot will be delivered in Manchester and Middlesbrough and offered to residents in who have fallen behind on their council tax payments. It follows a commitment set out in the Government’s Legal Support Action Plan published in 2019.

The first phase of the pilot has begun this month to gather key data about the pilot’s target population, their legal problems and the support they require. The scheme is due to ends on 31 March 2023 with a final evaluation report expected in Summer 2023.