At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic clinics on the network had to revise their services, leading many to transform face to face clinics into remote services, or to temporarily close.
Providing advice digitally can be helpful to people who aren’t otherwise able to access services in person, however it also disadvantages those who do not have the means to access online services. This has led some clinics to consider resuming face to face legal advice services as restrictions have been eased and lifted. This InfoExchange was held to explore the issues and should be looked at alongside our resource Returning to face to face work: Covid-19 Risk assessment.
During this session Matt Howgate from DGLegal gave a comprehensive presentation about how to undertake a risk assessment to prepare for resuming in-person advice sessions. There is not a standard template or off the shelf model for conducting risk assessments, but Matt’s presentation and the questions raised by attendees will assist clinic coordinators to assess what they need to be mindful of for their clinic or advice agency, and prompt consideration given the context, location, circumstances, and many different variables for their individual service. Using a pre-populated template may therefore cause an organization to miss out on something that is critical to their particular setting.
Matt further advised to take note of relevant guidance, i.e. Health and Safety Executive, Law Society, LawWorks. In addition, services should document their processes, including clearly identifying the risks, actions to be taken, who is going to make what happen and by when. He recommended putting in place a formal process, with someone who has sufficient authority and responsibility to monitor and maintain the process. Once an initial process is in place, it must be kept under continuous review.
Currently, the most obvious way to manage risk associated with the provision of advice services is to continue to do as much of it as you can online. If this is not possible, organisations need to think about what can be done to mitigate the risk. In doing this, it is important to engage external parties you work with, especially if another organisation is in control of the clinic’s physical space. Measures include keeping a 2-metre distance, putting in place a one-way traffic systems (if this is not possible it you may need to consider alternative premises), installing Perspex screens, using hand sanitizer and PPE equipment. It is further important to ensure proper signage is in place to remind employees, volunteers and clients of these measures. The Law Society made template posters for this purpose, available to download from their website.
Further, participants in the session pointed out the significance of managing client expectations and mitigating risk. This means informing clients they need to wear a mask, observe social distancing and requesting that they attend their appointment alone, unless this is not possible and where assistance from a family member or interpreter is required. Mitigating risk may also require a clinic or advice agency to operate by appointment, where they would normally provide a drop-in service and communicating this clearly to clients prior to the appointment.