Our June insights on delivering legal help during COVID-19
23 Jul 2020
Since April and May, we’ve seen subtle changes in the ways people are looking for and accessing legal help as a result of COVID-19. We are continuing to see overall significant legal need, with traffic to self-help resources on the Justice Connect website maintaining above-average levels, and requests for legal advice and representation remaining steady. In particular, we are seeing high levels of legal need across people struggling to understand their rights and navigate financial and tenancy issues.
At a glance, we received 39,000 unique page views in June, including 17,000 to our self-help resources. 19,000 of these sessions came through organic search. 1,327 people used our intake tool, and 49 questions were submitted to our Justice Connect Answers platform.
We have seen reduced demand for general information about COVID-19 as public health communications have improved in some states. We’ve also seen increased engagement with more specific resources and services relating to managing financial problems, tenancy issues and rights related to law enforcement.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 have resulted in many people losing employment or having their pay significantly reduced. Losing income means fewer people can stay on top of their bills, rent and other financial commitments. At Justice Connect, we see these financial concerns present as legal problems, such as bankruptcy and tenancy matters.
Financial, employment and tenancy problems remain prominent
This month, employment and financial-related matters were prominent across our intake tool, online resources and Justice Connect Answers, followed by people looking for help with tenancy-related matters.
One of the main issue areas self-selected in our intake tool was fair work and employment (20%), followed by tenancy or eviction (15%). Our Justice Connect Answers platform, which enables people to ask one-off legal questions and receive written advice from a pro bono lawyer, demonstrated a similar trend, with 27% of questions being related to employment matters and 10% related to financial problems.
Traffic to our online resources was down 11% in June compared to May, with the most significant drop in traffic to our emergency powers resources (down 20% across all state and territory resources). Despite the drop, our emergency powers resources remained our most popular online resources. As we added emergency powers resources for all states and territories, some of these resources made our top 10 resources visited list for June.
At the end of May, we added our financial resource Solving financial problems during COVID-19, which quickly became one of our most popular resources.
Comparatively, traffic to our resources on financial problems remained relatively consistent over May and June. Our third most-accessed resource was How COVID-19 affects Victorian renters, and many of our financial resources (Joint debts and assets during bankruptcy, Solving financial problems during COVID-19, and How to claim unpaid wages over $20,000) were in our top 10 most–accessed resources for June.
We’re seeing financial problems drive housing and tenancy issues
Helping people prevent their financial problems from escalating is a crucial part of our COVID-19 response strategy. Over the past month, our Homeless Law service saw an emerging cohort of renters facing financial hardship and housing insecurity due to COVID-19. These people identified as either ‘recently unemployed’ or ‘on a reduced income’ and may not have experienced homelessness or been at risk of homelessness before.
Throughout June, we also identified a spike in traffic towards financial resources. The proportion of people looking for help with bankruptcy rose from 23% to 29%.
Our Homeless Law service saw a dramatic increase in the percentage of enquiries related to eviction from 41% of all tenancy matters in May to 74% of all tenancy matters in June. Of these eviction matters, 26% were related to rental arrears, compared to 12% in May.
These numbers indicate that, despite the Victorian eviction moratorium, tenancy-related issues remain a community concern. In response to this growing legal need, we have re-designed our Dear Landlord self-help tool to deliver tailored pathways for people affected by COVID-19. The updated tool was released on 14 July and we will provide analysis of use of the tool in next month’s analysis.
The legal and social issues our clients are facing are presenting in classic clusters. Tenancy concerns are often linked to employment and financial problems. Addressing these issues in conjunction with each other means we can develop more effective solutions.
Across Justice Connect, we are focusing on creating online resources to support people experiencing this cluster of issues. We’re also focusing on early intervention to prevent the escalation of financial concerns into bankruptcy or eviction proceedings. We are particularly focused on promoting our financial resources through targeted online marketing as a way of helping people get on top of their debts or money problems before they escalate into a missed rental payment.
We’re identifying community concerns through the search terms people use to find us
By tracking search engine referrals on our emergency powers resources, we were able to gain insight into why people were seeking our resources and the questions they hoped they would answer.
We noticed that the reasons people sought out our emergency powers resources varied greatly depending on which state they lived in. People in New South Wales tended to have questions about what they could and couldn’t do due to restrictions.
As the COVID-19 response in Victoria shifted and new post-codes were put into tighter lockdowns and ‘hard lockdowns’ were introduced into public housing estates, we saw growing concern about police powers. Some of the search terms Victorians used to access our resources included:
- ‘can police enter your home coronavirus’
- ‘can police enter your house covid’
- ‘can police enter your home covid 19’
- ‘victoria police covid laws’
By tracking the terms that people are using to access our resources, we can better understand the questions they need answered and proactively produce relevant communications. Noticing this increase in community concern around police powers, we were able to target timely and helpful information about emergency and policy powers across our communications channels.
Legal help must be delivered in ways that demonstrate value and trust
When too much information is provided at once, people can end up overwhelmed or confused about their legal problem. One theory of providing effective online legal help is the bite-snack-meal model. In this model, people are first presented with a small amount of legal help (a bite). The initial bite of information helps people identify whether information is helpful, so they can choose to continue to read more (a snack) when they are ready. If that information is also helpful, they may choose to delve even deeper for more comprehensive information to solve a legal problem (the meal).
We’ve identified that the bite-snack-meal model is an effective way of increasing engagement with more in-depth legal information online. The model suggests you provide people with a small bit of information that is easily digestible and then build these interactions up to accessing your website for more detailed resources. Over the past month, the ‘bite’-sized pieces of legal information we have shared on our channels have had the highest rate of engagement that lead to an increase of traffic on our in-depth resources.
One successful example of this was our resource on dealing with debts from utility providers, which provided a bite of information and was our most engaged with post on Facebook, sending people through to our more in-depth resource on dealing with debt collection during COVID-19.
Looking forward: As government COVID-19 provisions end, we expect increasing legal need
As the impacts of the COVID-19 continue to be felt in our communities—particularly Victoria which is in a second phase of lock-down—we anticipate that the cluster of issues around financial and housing will continue to trend upwards. Recent announcements regarding extensions to JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes may hold off some of the financial impacts that we were anticipating at the end of these schemes in September.
We expect to see a rise in enquiries related to bankruptcy and debt related matters later this year when the threshold for bankruptcy drops from $20,000 back down to $5,000.
In June, zero people sought help to appeal a possession order issued by VCAT. We believe that the moratorium on certain evictions has helped reduce this number significantly. Still, tenancy-related issues remain high. We are expecting to see demand for help increase once the COVID-19 temporary tenancy protections end and landlords can once again pursue evictions for rental arrears, although it’s possible that protections in Victoria may be extended as COVID-19 continues to significantly impact the community.
Next month, we’ll be reporting data from our newly launched Dear Landlord self-help tool, which should provide more insight into how financial and tenancy issues are impacting people.