Personal Support Unit assisted 5,000 clients in 2008 — now number is a terrifying 50,000
The Personal Support Unit (PSU) is on track to help a total of 50,000 clients per year by April 2016, a sharp increase from the approximately 5,000 assisted in 2008-9, the year of the financial crisis.
Backed by top judges such as Lord Neuberger and Lord Dyson, the PSU offers free support to court users facing civil and family cases without legal help. Many of the volunteers are law students.
Figures published in the PSU’s newly released annual report for 2014-15 show the extent of the incredible growth in demand for the charity’s volunteers.
Total clients helped per year by the PSU
The total number of clients helped bobbed along throughout the noughties — and even for a few years after the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers and the ensuing financial crisis.
But a dramatic upturn occurred in the years following the major legal aid reforms which began in 2012. The total number of clients helped increased sharply to more than 20,000 in 2013-14, reached nearly 40,000 the year after and is set to hit 50,000 in 2015-16.
Family law disputes — which make up half of the PSU’s workload — have seen some of the biggest rises, increasing from around 10,000 to 15,538 last year. Other major areas of work for the PSU include money claim cases, about which the charity’s volunteers advised 6,343 clients last year, and housing, which saw 5,572 clients advised upon.
Legal Cheek caught up with PSU’s interim boss, Nick Gallagher, and asked him what all this means for law students and junior lawyers.
Gallagher was quick to make clear that the function of his organisation is to coordinate a positive response to the legal aid cuts, explaining:
We respond to the need that the client presents. The work we do is driven by the need presented by the client. We are responding to a reality that more people cannot access legal aid.
He also pointed out that PSU volunteers do not give legal advice, and are therefore able to signpost litigants to other organisations, be that free legal advice services or fee-charging professionals.
Interestingly, Gallagher is hopeful that the PSU is having a positive effect on the employability of law students. The organisation is the country’s biggest provider of in-court work experience, offering what it describes as “hands-on experience of court life”.
Gallagher added that a survey of former PSU student volunteers showed that 69% felt that working with the PSU had helped secure employment in the legal sector, with 84% saying that they felt volunteering with PSU had helped them to improve their client skills.
With the PSU expanding across the country — it’s already in most major cities and is planning to add four to five new court units per year — there are increasing opportunities for students to volunteer. You can find out more here.