Wellbeing in the Advice Sector: Reflections from February London Specialist Advice Forum

Earlier this year, we held our first London Specialist Advice Forum of 2024, focussing on wellbeing in the advice sector. Speakers included funders such as the National Lottery Community Fund, and organisations such as the Advice Service Alliance, Gamcare, and Legal Aid Practitioners Group.

Within the free legal advice sector, there is a recognition among colleagues that the sector is experiencing a well-being crisis. As mentioned in the forum, people are increasingly open about discussing mental health at work, and more and more employees are seeking mental health support via counselling and national helplines.

Many organisations are also implementing strategies to support their staff, such as:

  • New wellbeing policies
  • Access to services like Employee Assistance Programmes
  • Flexible working arrangements
  • Memberships to social activities

With increased recognition of the issue, and more focus on support strategies, this raises the question: Has the wellbeing situation got worse or are we just more aware of it now? As one forum speaker put it:

“Our Sector has gotten better at addressing wellbeing issues but sometimes it feels like we are trying to put out a fire while being surrounded by matches”

  1. The picture so far

In our forum, Lindsey Poole from the Advice Service Alliance provided an overview of how the sector is currently responding to the issues of well-being.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on advice agency organisations grappling with a myriad of challenges. The retention of employees has become a pressing concern as more staff members have left their jobs, leading to difficulties in recruitment and retention efforts. In addition to this, managers have also reported a concerning rise in staff illnesses, further highlighting the importance of prioritising employee well-being.

Increased workloads have become a source of frustration for both clients and staff, increasing the strain on an already underfunded free legal advice sector. Examples of this are evident in how referral systems, are able unable to cope with the demand lead ding to client dissatisfaction and further increasing the challenges faced by staff, and organisations. As client satisfaction decreases, and there are signs of empathy fatigue and burnout among staff, highlighting the urgent need for organisations to address these issues proactively.

Similarly, Matt Howgate provided an overview of some of the key issues that impact well-being in the sector, following practitioner workshops he led last year.

One forum member mentioned that despite the issues within the sector, one key thing the free legal advice sector should be proud of is its “resilience.” This resilience has persisted despite many external factors such as COVID-19, the cost-of-living crisis, the political climate, and the availability of funding.

The discussion on resilience also focused on the idea that hanging onto resilience is becoming more difficult as there are fewer solutions available to deal with well-being issues. This further highlights the need for a more effective solution. As one forum speaker put it:

“Resilience is something that we are meant to rely on temporarily to get us over a difficult period, not permanently.”

The sector has shown remarkable resilience in the face of numerous challenges. However, relying solely on resilience is not a sustainable long-term solution. There is a growing need to find more effective ways to address wellbeing issues and support the mental health of those working in the free legal advice sector.

  1. What should the sector consider, it is tackling the well-being crisis

From both presentations, the discussion wasn’t only about raising awareness but significantly focused on what the sector should do next. One suggestion for tackling the well-being crisis is through a three-level approach, as nothing can be resolved in isolation. Consideration should be given to the overall context of the free legal advice sector, organisational circumstance, and individual factors.

  • Overall context, including complex client needs, ineffective policies, COVID-19 impacts, cost of living, housing insecurity, climate change, and global conflicts.
  • Organisational factors like purpose, culture, processes, relationships within teams and externally, and operational efficiency.
  • Individual factors such as skills, qualifications, experience, personality, ambition, values, health (both physical and mental), disabilities, and necessary accommodations.


In addition to this, the consensus within the forum was that the solution to the well-being crisis was not only an organisational approach but also a strategic, budgetary, and policy one as well. The role of funders and their funding practices were heavily discussed, as they can significantly impact the well-being of employees and the overall work environment. One key issue forum member highlighted was the detrimental effect of underfunding projects. When organisations underfund initiatives, they inadvertently create or perpetuate conditions that can lead to stress, anxiety, job insecurity, low retention rates, financial problems, unhealthy working environments, inequity, and unfairness – all of which contribute to workplace unwellness.

The current state of the workforce in the advice sector is a prime example of the consequences of underfunding, and impact of policy change. The implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO, 2012) has had a ripple effect on the infrastructure of the free legal advice sector, particularly in terms of retention and recruitment of staff. Due to the lack of secure funding, well-being issues, and a hostile political climate, many in the advice sector face significant challenges in developing effective and sustainable career pathways that are essential for a happy and robust workforce.

  1. LLST: Advice Workforce Development Programme

To help tackle this issue, LLST is working in partnership with many funders and advice sector partners under the  Propel programme, to tackle the root causes of the retention/recruitment in the advice sector, which closely correlates with some of the root causes of the wellbeing issues in the sector. As a part of this work, there are a series of “task and finish” groups, which include the following:

  • Pay and Conditions group: The group is commissioning work aimed at exploring advice sector pay and conditions in more depth.  The work on conditions will very much include wellbeing, e.g. seeing what initiatives help manage workers’ stress and reduce the risk of vicarious trauma.
  • Building organisational capacity: The group explores examples of great capacity-building practices within the advice sector, whether at organisational level or through organisations’ involvement in collaborative partnerships.
  • Developing a London-wide advice Strategy: It is intended that the group will draw upon the intelligence gathered by the Pay & Conditions and Organisational Capacity T&F groups, among other sources, to inform its approaches and the content of a future strategy – and look at wellbeing through a strategic lens.


In summary, the well-being crisis is a multifaceted issue that requires strategic and budgetary solutions. It is worth remembering that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot work for all the well-being issues mentioned so far and requires a whole-sector approach from frontline staff, supervisors, trustees, funders, and policy makers.

If you want to find out more about the Advice Workforce Development work you can read more here

You can read the full meeting notes from the forum here, or watch a recording of the session here

If you would like to know more about you can get involved with forum, please get in touch with [email protected]