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Keywords:

  • access;
  • legal advice;
  • telephone;
  • solicitors;
  • distance;
  • outcomes

In line with changes to the delivery of other public services, current reforms to publicly funded legal advice services within England and Wales seek to move services from traditional face-to-face settings to delivery predominantly over the telephone. Government justification for the policy has focused on greater equality of access. In contrast, criticisms have centred upon the inability of the telephone to address the needs of certain client groups or complex cases. Using administrative records collected by the Legal Services Commission on the use of education law advice services, this paper considers the extent to which telephone services overcome barriers caused by distance from advice sources, as well as their ability to deliver comparable service and achieve similar outcomes to face-to-face services. Clear evidence emerged that as distance increased between service users and their closest provider, so did the likelihood of using telephone advice. However, when looking at the nature of the service received and the outcome achieved for clients, there were notable differences, with face-to-face service users far more likely to achieve tangible outcomes. Few telephone cases moved beyond the initial stages of advice. Telephone services did mediate the impact of distance, although there were concerns over the comparability of the service delivered by the two modes. Despite this, the paper highlights the importance of going beyond simply measuring access in terms of utilisation alone, also measuring it in terms of the outcomes achieved.