In this update:
- Civil tender PQQ outcomes
- JR of expert fees – Law Society intervene
- What happens to clients from April 2013?
- Lost in the post?
- Welfare benefits – moving the goalposts?
Civil tender outcomes
If you submitted a PQQ for the face to face or telephone civil contract tenders, you should have received the outcome by now. Outcomes are being sent only via the LSC’s online system, so do check there if you haven’t already. Those who passed the face to face PQQ will go forward to the Invitation to Tender in September and those who passed the telephone PQQ are being asked for further evidence to verify their answers. If you failed the PQQ, you do have a right of appeal, but only in very limited circumstances. The Information for Applicants (face to face version) says (para 7.19)
LSC will only consider an appeal on the ground that the Applicant Organisation believes that LSC has made an error in the LSC assessment of the Applicant Organisations ”exceptional circumstances” submitted under Section C of its PQQ response. No other grounds for appeal will be considered including any circumstances where mistakes, inaccuracies, omissions, errors, or inconsistencies have been made by the Applicant Organisation in its PQQ response or where the Applicant Organisation fails to submit its PQQ response prior to the deadline
In short, you can only appeal where the LSC has made an error. If you have made an error, or a late submission, you can not appeal. If you do wish to appeal, there is a form on the LSC website you should use and the deadline will be stated in your outcome letter.
Whether you passed or failed, the new FAQ on the LSC website is worth reading.
Judicial Review of expert witness fees sought
The Law Society has intervened in a judicial review of a decision of the LSC to refuse to pay the costs of an expert report in full. In a family case, the child was represented under legal aid but the parents were not. The Court ordered that an expert report be paid for by the child alone rather than split three ways. The LSC refused to pay the full costs, and only paid a one third share. It is that decision that is being JR’d. Section 22(4) Access to Justice Act 1999, on which the LSC relies, says that the fact that a party is legally aided shall not affect the rights or liabilities of any other party or the exercise of the court’s discretion. There is a report of the case in the Gazette, given added interest by a comment underneath by Richard Miller, Law Society head of legal aid, explaining the Law Society’s thinking behind the intervention.
Although this specific issue is most relevant in family cases, it is potentially of wider application and we will bring you news of the outcome of the case in due course.
Impact of scope cuts from April 2013
From next year, the changes to legal aid will be implemented either by termination of existing contracts (and re-tender in some categories) or by amendment of existing contracts. The changes will be huge, and have serious ramifications both for providers and clients. One aspect of particular importance to current clients is what will happen to their cases after April next year. In the welfare benefits category, for example, contracts will be terminated. Providers can do remainder work (carrying on with existing cases but not taking on any new ones), but will they want or be able to afford to? Or will they just shut down – their welfare benefits department or the whole organisation – on 31st March? And what happens to clients then? They can’t go anywhere else to finish their cases since no-one is allowed to open a new welfare benefits matter start. They could just be left in limbo.
This is a complicated area, both contractually and ethically, and Richard Miller has written an article on the Law Society website that is well worth reading which sets out many of the problems.
Lost in the post?
When a legal aid provider complained to the LSC that they were not receiving certificates and other important paperwork for weeks after the date on the letter, or at all, they received a letter in response which said:
The delays are attributable to changes to a scanning system used by Royal Mail, which has resulted in LSC outbound documents having to be screened and processed by hand rather than mechanically. The newly introduced scanning system is apparently unable to read address details from LSC letters due to formatting of the address box, and this has caused delays…I have contacted the relevant IT departments to request the formatting be changed and this request is now underway, although our IT team have been unable at this point to provide a resolution date.
The letter goes on to say that if late arrival of correspondence causes difficulties with LSC deadlines, you can request an extension in individual cases. Of course, the LSC can not grant an extension to anyone else’s deadlines, but hopefully their IT department will fix the problem soon.
Welfare benefits funding
Getting paid for welfare benefits work can be tricky, as many will know. The LSC have changed their views on what is allowable and what is not, and there have been important recent points of principle. As a result, significant problems have been caused on contract compliance and financial stewardship audits. Vicky has set out the current position in a very useful article over at Legal Voice.
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