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Analysing Specialist Legal Advice Providers funding: What can we see? What have we learnt?

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Following on from the publication of brand new analysis for the Access to Justice Foundation, we’re sharing what we have learnt along the way.

The 360Giving team were pleased to work with the Access to Justice Foundation on a  new report analysing funding for ‘Specialist Legal Advice Providers’, and the broader size and scope of the sector. In keeping with our organisational values of being purposeful, open, curious, collaborative and inclusive, we’re sharing why we did it, and what we have learnt along the way about the methodology and what’s next. 

Start from the beginning – why was the analysis commissioned? 

The Access to Justice Foundation has been looking at ways to harness the potential of the collaboration of funders to address opportunities, problems and gaps in the legal advice sector in a strategic way. As a first step to driving some strategic giving to address gaps, it was important to try to map where legal advice was being funded, and by whom, and underlying trends in funding. 

Knowing that 360Giving is uniquely placed to analyse open grants data, our team was commissioned to support this analysis as a starting point to facilitate these discussions and to provide potential data support for the wider collaboration. We were delighted to be approached by the Access to Justice Foundation to enrich data published using the 360Giving Data Standard with data from the Charity Commission and Legal Aid payments. 

What can you find in the analysis? 

We’ll leave it to you to read the full report, but here are the headlines: 

  • There has been a significant decline in legal aid funding for the specialist legal advice providers in the cohort analysed (down from over £20m in 2010-11 to below £15m in 2019-20).
  • Income growth has stalled for the majority of charities and law centres in the cohort, in many cases not even keeping up with inflation.
  • The majority of grant funding for Specialist Legal Advice Providers from funders publishing grants data using the 360Giving Data Standard comes from just six funders.
  • The relationships between funders and between different funder collaborations is becoming increasingly important.

In fact, the landscape has been more difficult for legal advice charities than the numbers in the report suggest, as data was not available on organisations that have already closed. The sector as a whole has shrunk significantly at a time of increasing needs and demand. The Access to Justice Foundation is calling for collective, strategic action to support the advice sector to maintain much needed service provision, following on from the publication of the report. 

Learning from our methodology – what’s missing?

Categorisation of charities and specialist legal advice providers

Part of the approach was to attempt to identify the organisations that form ‘the specialist legal advice sector’ – there isn’t a standard categorisation of types of charities anywhere, or a defined list of specialist legal advice providers. In order to do this research we combined data from a range of sources including the Charity Commission, Legal Aid data, organisations that had received grants reported on GrantNav to deliver legal advice work, and other databases provided to us. While the matching of data was helpful in narrowing down the list, a manual intervention from Access to Justice Foundation was needed to review the specific organisations to decide which to include and exclude in the research.

Better quality structured data in key data sources like the Charity Commission Register would be helpful. A Charity Commission review of the register classifications took place in early 2022 which is likely to make some improvements when the new data is available.

Data on Scotland and Northern Ireland

The analysis is focused on England and Wales only – not because funders are only interested in this area, but because the data was lacking in availability and quality to be able to undertake the analysis in Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is an ongoing challenge for 360Giving when undertaking analysis projects – the data available across different regulators is inconsistent and makes it more difficult to do UK-wide analysis.

Financial information on closed organisations

As mentioned above, there was no financial data available from the Charity Commission on organisations that have already closed – and from the analysis we could do, it was apparent that this was a disproportionate number of specialist legal advice providers. The lack of data skews the overall picture and artificially deflates income to the sector in previous years. For example if an organisation received income and delivered services in 2016-17 or 2017-18 but closed since, they have not been included in the analysis . Understanding the impact of closures on the sector as a whole, and for local communities, is vital and is something that needs to be monitored in the future. 

Contracts data

While we have all the central government grants data, we do not have all the contracts data (although a significant proportion of this will be in the form of Legal Aid funding, which is available) or any of the local authority contracts data. The government has committed to using the Open Contracting Data Standard, but the data published on awards made, for example on Contracts Finder, is inconsistent or missing.

Missing grantmakers

And last but not least, we’re missing open grants data from other key funders of specialist legal advice, which includes funders in the Community Justice Fund and the Justice Together Partnership collaborations, a handful of Community Foundations that are working towards publishing their data and the majority of Local Authorities that are yet to publish their data. 

What next? 

This analysis does not provide all the answers, but it is intended to stimulate discussions to support greater funder collaboration.

We also strongly recommend that the government publishes all contracts awarded to the Open Contracting Data Standard, and that missing key grantmakers share open grants data using the 360Giving Data Standard. 

The Access to Justice Foundation and 360Giving will be working together to monitor the sector. The cohort of identified specialist legal advice organisations in our analysis will be tracked, and the analysis will be repeated in future years so that we (and others) can understand what is happening to the sector from this baseline.

The cohort of organisations is available if you would like to explore some of the data used in the report: Legal Advice Providers (Charities) 2022.

If you have any questions about this work or are interested in commissioning 360Giving to do research on another topic then please get in touch with us at info@threesixtygiving.org.