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Survey highlights lack of legal recourse concerns amongst UK SME’s

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A survey conducted by the Nesta Challenges, as part of its Legal Access Challenge, has highlighted concerns amongst many UK businesses that the ability to take effective legal action for commercial & business disputes is far too focussed on big business or those with significant financial resources.

The survey of SME’s (Small to Medium sized Enterprises of 1-49 staff, encompassing 99% of all businesses) found that:

• Over 20% of small and medium businesses in England and Wales believe that access to effective and affordable legal advice is reserved for big businesses or those with deep pockets.

• Nearly 50% of small businesses owners and self-employed people felt that the business legal advice sector was not geared up to service their type of business.

• Just under 80% of SME business owners suggested that it needs to be easier for business owners to check whether a problem they were experiencing would be best resolved by going through a formal legal process.

• Many SME owners surveyed were also very keen to embrace online and digital legal services to help with legal problems.

In response to the survey and to help address the divide between the SME sector and ‘big business’, in 2019 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’) partnered with Nesta Challenges in launching the Legal Access Challenge to award £250,000 in prize money to improve legal access and recourse for SME’s. Individuals and businesses who responded to the challenge were able to submit their ideas that demonstrate how technology can narrow the 'legal gap' and make it far easier for individuals and SMEs to access the legal system. In commenting on the challenge, a spokesperson for Nesta said:

It is deeply worrying that so many small business owners feel they can't make use of our legal system. England and Wales have one of the best legal systems in the world and yet we are witnessing a 'legal gap' between those businesses that have the wealth and knowledge of the system to access it, and those that feel they don’t. With 5.6 million SMEs in the UK, employing 16.3 million people, it’s vital they can get the legal advice they need, when they need it…The Legal Access Challenge aims to light a spark among the UK's active community of innovators and entrepreneurs to bring forward the best ideas using technology to broaden access to the legal system, for both citizens and small and medium businesses. Having fair access to legal advice is something that everyone should benefit from, yet too many small business owners and self-employed people currently miss out. We look forward to playing our part in turning that around."

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