Last month, we invited our Centre of Excellence (COEx) agencies to discuss the findings of our 2022 COEx Annual report. The meeting shed light on various issues affecting advice agencies including the cost-of-living crisis, staffing challenges, finance and funding difficulties, organisational risks, and training and support needs.
Here are some insights from the COEx annual meeting:
- Cost of living crisis
Our COEx reported a significant increase in demand for advice from clients struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. Many clients are presenting with complicated issues putting additional pressure on staff and volunteers. The rise in cost of living, coupled with stagnant wages has created a challenging environment for both clients and advice agencies.
- Staffing Challenges
Our COExs discussed the challenges they had in recruiting and retaining staff with the necessary skills and experiences. Despite the flexibility of remote and hybrid working arrangements, many agencies struggled with high turnover and faced difficulties in recruitment.
In addition to this, the issues of staff wellbeing and burnout was a major concern with many identifying it as a major risk to their organisation. One COEx member stated the following:
“Staff morale has become an increasing issue for us in recent months. We feel this is partly due to stretching ourselves to try to meet increased demand and partly because the options to help clients feel like they are reducing. Furthermore, clients are increasingly taking out their frustrations on our staff and volunteers because there are often no easy solutions to the problems they are facing. Whilst we are a supportive team, we must focus more on the wellbeing of our staff and volunteers in the coming months.”
- Finance and Funding
COExs also discussed the financial challenges they faced, many agencies had projected deficits due to increased salary costs and rising energy bills. Funding from local authorities was reported to have decreased as they faced their own budget issues. Legal aid income was also highlighted as being unreliable as a sustainable income source. There were concerns about further funding reductions and increased difficulty in obtaining funding in the future.
In addition to their concerns in staffing and funding risk COExs discussed other concerns they had. These included;
- Challenges in maintaining Legal Aid contracts,
- Difficulties in obtaining funding for strategic litigation
- Concerns about premise suitability and affordability amidst the cost-of-living crisis
- Training and Support needs
COExs identified various training and support needs during the meeting. These include legal aid billing support, staff wellbeing support, management skills, dealing with difficult clients, impact measurement and evaluation, safeguarding, and environmental policy development.
The COEx annual meeting highlighted the significant challenges faced by legal advice agencies. These challenges reflect the complex and demanding environment in which advice agencies operate in. Addressing these challenges will require collaborative efforts from all stakeholders including advice agencies, funders and policymakers to ensure that COEx agencies can continue to serve those in need.
You can read more about the work of COEx here.