In this update:
- Face to face contracts tender opens
- Telephone contracts tender closes
- Housing legal aid – increase to surveyors rates
- New process for amending criminal representation orders
- New forms from 1st October
- Changes to family VHCC documents
- LSC and Law Society write to mental health firms
- New legal aid minister named
Face to face contracts tender opens
As we reported on Friday, the face to face tender is now open. The Information for Applicants is available here and the (extensive) contract documentation is available here. Tenders close at noon on 22nd October and you can only bid for a contract if you have passed the PQQ. The LSC is giving a second chance to firms that failed the PQQ in May, and PQQs must be submitted by noon on 28th September.
There are tenders for family, housing (with debt) and asylum and immigration. Full details are in the Information for Applicants, but in each category to be awarded a contract you must get over the minimum threshold. These are:
- All categories – permanent office presence in the area and employing at least one full time equivalent supervisor and a ratio of supervisors to supervisees of no higher than 1:4, plus not having had a confirmed peer review rating of 4 or 5
- Family – no additional criteria
- Housing – you must employ a litigator working at least 17.5 hours per week and available to each office from which you are tendering
- Immigration – all caseworkers must be accredited and you must have a ratio of at least 2:1 level 2 to level 1 caseworkers
If you get over the threshold, you will then be awarded matters starts. Matters are awarded in one of three bands; if you bid in band 1 or 2 you will be guaranteed the number you bid for and if you bid in band 3 you will be guaranteed the bottom of the band but will only be awarded additional matters if there are any left after they have been allocated to those in the lower bands. Given that the procurement plans for each area contain significantly fewer matters than before, the effect of this approach is to re-distribute matters from bigger bidders to smaller. The bands are:
- Family – 0 to 10 matters; 16 to 40 matters; 61 matters and over
- Housing – 0 to 40 matters; 61 to 100 matters; 101 matters and over
- Immigration – 35 to 50 matters; 76 to 100 matters; 101 matters and over
In immigration, priority for additional matters in the London region will be given to organisations with level 3 caseworkers. Matters will only be awarded up to a maximum of 150 per full time equivalent caseworker.
In family you will only be able to bid in the highest band if you employ a domestic violence accredited specialist working at least 2.5 days pet week.
Organisations will need to consider all the criteria carefully and think about whether they can meet the conditions of the tender, and indeed deliver a viable service if successful.
Telephone tenders close
The tender for telephone contracts closes at noon tomorrow. If you are intending to bid and do not submit in time there can be no extensions and there is no right of appeal against refusal of late tenders.
Increase to expert rates for housing surveyors
Following months of lobbying by the Housing Law Practitioners Association, supported by LAPG ASA and Shelter, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Services Commission have finally conceded that the prescribed rates set for housing surveyors were set at the wrong level (being based on proceeds of crime valuations, not full disrepair surveys).
The funding order will not be amended until at least April 2013, but the new rates are £115 per hour in London and £85 per hour out of London (up from £50 in both cases). You will only be allowed the higher rates (above £50) if granted prior authority by the LSC, but prior authority to that level should now routinely be granted. The LSC will issue further guidance in due course.
New process for amending criminal representation orders
Where new offences are added during the proceedings, the representation order needs to be amended to ensure that the new offences are covered by the legal aid grant. The LSC have changed the process for granting amendments and the new process can be found here. The LSC has also issued updated guidance on the application of the interests of justice test.
New legal aid forms from October
Changes to family VHCC documents
The LSC has updated the supporting documentation for family VHCCs. The new guidance can be found on the LSC website.
Law Society and LSC write to mental health firms
There have been a series of concerns about quality of tribunal advocacy in mental health cases, and judicial disquiet has led the Law Society and LSC to write jointly to contract holders reminding them of their responsibilities. The letter can be found here.
New legal aid minister
Following the government reshuffle, the only surviving justice minister, Liberal Democrat Lord McNally, has been appointed legal aid minister. The full list of his duties, and those of the other new justice ministers, is in this report in the Gazette.