I recently represented an NfP agency at the Contract Review Body (CRB). The successful result has not yet been confirmed in writing; but the Legal Aid Agency did suggest that they would be providing guidance on this issue soon. This is to be welcomed as it has been causing anxiety and confusion, as we reported recently.
In the meantime, it may be helpful to other practitioners to have some information from some of the points raised in the appeal and at the hearing.
The NfP agency (A) is delivering services from the premises of a separate organisation (B). Under the terms of their agreement, B gives A a dedicated office within their premises and provides reception services, including booking appointments and carrying out an initial eligibility assessment. B’s offices are open during office hours from Monday to Friday. Members of A’s staff are not present five days a week on B’s premises. However, legal aid services can be, and have been, provided on any day of the week.
One of the reasons the LAA’s National Contract Manager gave for terminating the contract schedule was that there were no longer consortium provisions in the 2013 Standard Civil Contract. It was argued that the consortium provisions were irrelevant, as they concerned the provision of the three social welfare law categories. Each member of a consortium was required to meet the ‘permanent presence’ requirements in the 2010 Contract and these are identical in the current one.
It appeared that the LAA’s concern was first and foremost about public access. They wanted to have confidence that face-to-face services would be consistently available and suitable for clients for whom telephone or other remote methods of service delivery are not suitable. A and B did not initially have a written agreement. This was rectified prior to the CRB hearing and seemed to reassure the LAA that the service would continue to be reliable.
The LAA also appeared reassured to know that usage of matter starts was around the target for the schedule and supported a need for the service at the location.
The LAA was concerned that staff members worked on that particular contract part time and could possibly be over-stretched. However, it was noted favourably that A had passed the contract audit element of the Contract Manager’s visit with flying colours and so understanding of the contract and supervision were clearly not a problem.
The CRB’s decision was to set aside the National Contract Manager’s decision, which means that A will be able to continue providing services under a schedule at B’s offices.