Ministry of Justice drops Dear Sir in automated responses to legal aid
Addressing the woman as ‘Ms’, the LAA then reportedly replied: “A change is being implemented to tackle this particular issue and update the salutation that is used.”It has now opted for “to whom it may concern”, though templates for automated responses “are still in the process of being changed”.The Department of Work and Pensions said it is rare that it would not know someone’s name because all customers provide this information in order to claim benefits. It said it would therefore address them by their full name as default.A spokesman added: “When we are corresponding with people and do not state a full we would not assume someone’s gender and would either address these as ‘Sir/Madam’ or ‘to whom it may concern.”The Home Office uses a ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ greeting, a spokesman told The Telegraph. Meanwhile, the Department for Education does not have a policy on prefaces as they rarely contact individuals without knowing their name first. The Cabinet Office also does not have any central guidance regarding prefaces and all individual departments decide the most appropriate terms of address in their correspondence.A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “In the occasions where we do not know the name of a recipient – we use ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ to address them.Maxine Benson MBE, co-founder of Every Woman Limited, an organisation aimed at advancing women in business, welcomed the LAA’s official title change.She said: “Oh dear…. Perhaps time for the LAA to do a thorough review of all their templates!“But in good news, the LAA does have a 50/50 board – so I am hopeful that there is an awareness that the voice, experience and insight of women needs to be included in the future of the LAA.”An LAA spokesperson said: “We address people by their name when it is known, and only use ‘to whom it may concern’ when it is not.” The Ministry of Justice has dropped the “sexist” ‘dear sir’ greeting it includes on all automated responses to legal aid claimants following a complaint from a member of the public.The Legal Aid Agency (LAA), part of the Ministry of Justice, is believed to be the first government arm to change its automated messages to avoid only referencing one gender – moving from its default ‘Dear Sirs’ to: ‘To whom it may concern’.This comes following the annoyance of one keen-eyed member of the public who was moved enough to write to the LAA pointing out that its client and cost management system still uses ‘Dear Sirs’ as “the default salutation in all correspondence”.“Historically, women would never receive official correspondence, so it made sense to use a generic male salutation,” the unnamed woman wrote, according to the Law Gazette. However, she added: “These days women outnumber men – as the Law Society confirms.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.