In March 2016, the SRA published their Spring Update to the 2015/2016 Risk Outlook which highlighted a failure to provide a proper standard of service particularly for vulnerable clients as one of the priority risks facing the profession.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”What is a vulnerable client?” font_container=”tag:h2|text_align:center” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]There really is not a straightforward answer. A person may be vulnerable for a number of reasons, including but not limited to;[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
- advanced age, children and young people
- physical disabilities or ill health
- loss of mental capacity to make relevant decisions
- mental health problems
- learning disabilities
- difficulty in accessing and/or understanding complex information, e.g. due to emotional factors such as bereavement
- communication difficulties i.e. English is second language, illiteracy etc.
Having identified these risk factors, the next step is to ascertain any specific needs your client may have to ensure you provide the best access to your services? Example enquiries include;[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
- Do they have any requirements or preferences for communicating with you?
- Do they have any requirements to access your services, i.e. to overcome mobility problems or hearing or sight difficulties?
- Do they have any requirements in terms of how services are provided e.g. documents written in clear and simple language or information given orally?
- Do they understand and can act on the information and advice provided, or whether they may need support to do this e.g. from an interpreter?
- allowing extra time for meetings with clients who may need longer to understand what you are explaining,
- do not speak in legal jargon
- provide information for visually impaired clients i.e. documents in large print, Braille, audio
- provide written text on a coloured background; which is beneficial for dyslexic clients
- provide a sign language interpreter, lip-speaker or deaf-blind communicator
- Discrimination claims or a claim for a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010
- A claim for damages or compensation against you or your firm
- A complaint against you to the Legal Ombudsman
- Reputational risk of you and your practice
- Principle 2 of the Code of Conduct 2011 requires you to act with integrity.
- Principle 5 requires you to provide a proper standard of service – which includes to clients who are vulnerable.
- Outcome 1.5 requires that the service you provide to clients is competent, delivered in a timely manner and takes account of your clients’ needs and circumstances.
- The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on businesses providing services to the public to anticipate and make reasonable adjustments so that a person who is disabled (and thus may be vulnerable) is not disadvantaged.
- The Statement of Solicitor Competence includes the requirement to meet the service needs of vulnerable clients.
- Does your firm have in place a Vulnerable Client Policy?
- Do you have an entry on your Risk Register explaining your processes in mitigating potential risk in identifying and dealing with vulnerable clients?
- Do staff make reasonable adjustments to ensure a proper standard or service for clients who are identified as vulnerable?
- Have you trained your staff to recognise circumstances which could make a client vulnerable? Do they understand what to do in those circumstances to ensure that such clients receive a proper standard of service?
Solicitors Regulation Authority “Providing Services to People who are Vulnerable”
Law Society Practice Note “Meeting the needs of vulnerable clients”