Free employment advice: the practical realities
Website. My free employment advice website – www.freeemploymentadvice.co.uk – operated to provide free or low cost advice for people with employment law problems. It contained information on a number of areas of employment law and offered advice by telephone or email. The initial telephone or email advice, if brief, was free. Further advice was available for a small fee. A standard charge of £100 was made for an initial conference, regardless of its length. The website received, on average, 10 requests a week. Many of the enquiries were clients driven into mental illness by their workplace experiences and by the cost, delays and complexity of the legal system. They had started down the civil procedure road confident that they would obtain justice. As the case proceeded, their optimism changed to bewilderment and disillusion. Their savings disappeared. These were people with a partial grasp of the details of law and procedure, obsessed with the fine detail of their case, doomed to wander the obscure byways of English law and procedure until their money was gone, their spirit broken and their illusions as to English justice shattered. Their initial naïve belief that they would get justice or have their day in court soon disappeared.The majority of enquirers had some idea of their employment rights but most became lost in a fog of incomprehension and despair as they discovered how complex and opaque the law is, and how difficult it is to deal with procedural points. In almost every case, the root of the problem was money.
Typically, the enquirers were unemployed, poor and desperate. Many of them had been dismissed or made redundant. They might complain of discrimination, bullying and harassment. They might have been made ill by workplace conditions. One thing which almost all of them had in common was that they could not afford advice and/or representation through the mainstream legal profession. Most were not members of a trade union, nor did they have legal expenses insurance. Many had approached the Citizens’ Advice Bureau for help and some had contacted Law Centres, only to be told that the Centres were fully occupied and could not take on any more cases.
Working with these clients for free or for a small fee is difficult. The facts are often complex and may involve detailed allegations of bullying or harassment over long periods of time. Medical evidence is normally crucial and expensive to obtain.