THE Co-operative Group is launching a free legal services helpline for over two million members as it moves to take advantage of the liberalisation of the UK legal market.
The helpline – 0845 0901456 * – is being established for Group members, who include food shoppers, bank customers, insurance policy holders and people who use its travel businesses.
Earlier this year, the Group announced the launch of Co-operative Legal Services, in advance of the Government's Legal Services Bill, which paves the way for reform of the sector.
The CLS helpline has been successfully trialled in recent weeks and from Monday November 27th will be available to all two million-plus Group members.
"The Legal Services Bill is about making legal advice more easily accessible for individuals, and cutting away the mystique and mistrust which surrounds the profession," said CLS Managing Director Eddie Ryan.
"Our helpline provides people with free and easy access to legal advice on a range of issues. We have experts ready to take calls on just about any legal subject which can affect the individual.
"People worry, often with good reason, that even the most simple legal advice will cost a lot of money. Our helpline is free to our members, there's no annual fee or payment necessary. As long as someone is a member of the Co-operative Group, which costs just £ 1, they can use our services."
Most calls to the helpline are expected to be queries about consumer, employment or motoring issues, although help and advice are also available on all personal legal matters.
Where necessary, callers will be assisted in more depth by CLS in-house experts and panel solicitors.
The Bristol-based business is the first foray into legal services for the Group, the UK's largest consumer-owned retailer.
During 2007, CLS will expand to offer a range of additional services for members, including conveyancing, will writing, probate, and personal injury assistance.
"The Group's brand values, of openness, honesty and trust, will be major assets," said Mr Ryan. "Our research shows that when it comes to legal services consumers want a trusted, professional brand.
"Our members, and customers of our banking, insurance, food, travel, pharmacy and funerals businesses, now have easy-to-access legal specialists just a phone call away, and backed by those values."
*The new CLS helpline will be operational from 9.0 am to 8.0 pm, Monday to Friday and from 10.0 am to 4.0 pm on Saturdays. The service will be unavailable on Bank Holidays and all calls will be charged at local rate.