Writing exclusively for Small firms focus, Ryan McGregor of Chancery Pii comments that practitioners will have to continue to adapt to attract private paying clients in an ever-more competitive market

With a general election just seven weeks away, it’s no surprise that chancellor George Osborne delivered a budget that promises few cuts, provides feel-good policies such as reducing the beer levy, and increases public spending. It is, however, a departure from his original claim that the deficit would be closed at the end of this parliament.

The government can boast economic success in the form of 2.5% economic growth in the last year, achieved in the face of a floundering Eurozone. Unemployment is also at its lowest level since 2008 (5.7% compared to 7.2% in 2014) and employment law specialists can expect continued enquiries from businesses courting new hires as numbers fell by 102,000 to 1.86 million in the three months to the end of January. Spending increases were balanced with promises to target tax evaders, with new penalties applying to professionals who aid clients doing so.

Younger voters undoubtedly rejoiced at the launch of a ‘Help-to-Buy ISA’ scheme with conveyancing solicitors potentially set to benefit from an increase in property transactions. While the government has promised to add £50 to every £200 an account holder saves, the saving cap is £200 a month. It would take almost five years for a saver to accrue the maximum support of £3000 on a £12,000 savings pot, a figure that is unlikely to keep pace with house-price inflation, measured at 9.8% in the year to December. Osborne also overlooked planning reform to help build on green-belt land or cut red tape, thereby not addressing supply. The new Help-to-Buy scheme will be viewed by cynics as a short-term incentive to win pre-election support.

Britain’s youth will have to continue to make the most of their rental arrangements, so at least the government has stated its intent to clarify and strengthen private residential landlord’s legal responsibilities when considering requests from tenants to sub-let, and will look to extend these responsibilities to requests from tenants on the sharing of space. Landlord and tenant solicitors will undoubtedly be watching these developments closely.

The coalition has potentially bolstered senior citizen support by outlining intent to change the law to allow five million pensioners access to their annuity in a lump sum. Osborne has committed to funding appropriate legal guidance accordingly. Will writers, financial planners and estate administrators can note the potential increase in demand from seniors looking to access their cash, and from family members concerned about their parents spending their inheritance.

Perhaps of most concern to the legal industry was the government’s silence on the issue of legal aid and access to justice. Since the Jackson review and introduction of the LASPO Act, solicitors and barristers have voiced several concerns including: an increase in litigants in person, additional burdens on court resources and an unwillingness of solicitors to take on complex low value litigation.

By providing no response, the government has seemingly dismissed these concerns and has consequently offered no additional funding. Labour has made no promises to reverse funding cuts should they ascend to power. Practitioners will have to continue to adapt to attract private paying clients in ever-more competitive market.