Category Archives: Mental Health

LAA withdraws direct contacts

The LAA has announced that it will no longer be possible to contact the immigration, exceptional funding and civil high cost cases teams direct. For the next two months direct calls to those teams using existing numbers will be diverted to the main customer service number. After that time they will stop working altogether and you will need to dial customer services direct. It says this is to “simplify” contacting the LAA and to divert resources towards casework.

Affected numbers are:

  • National Immigration and Asylum Team – 020 3334 5900
  • High Cost Cases Brighton – 01273 878870
  • High Cost Cases London – 0203 334 5750
  • Exceptional Case Funding Team – 020 3334 6060

The main customer service number is 0300 200 2020.

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Civil and family tender timetable announced

The LAA has announced that the tender process for civil and family legal aid contracts to take effect in April 2018 will actually start this April, 2017. They will announce their intentions for family mediation contracts in due course. The announcement can be found here.

The agency has reverted to a two-stage process. Stage 1, a selection questionnaire (previously known as a pre-qualification questionnaire – PQQ), followed by an invitation to tender (ITT) in Ausgust 2017 for the following categories:

  • Family
  • Housing, debt and welfare benefits
  • Immigration/asylum (including IRCs)
  • Claims against public authorities (currently known as Actions against the police etc)
  • Community Care
  • Clinical Negligence
  • Mental Health
  • Public Law

The LAA stresses that the tender in relation to the above will simply test organisations’ ability to meet minimum tender requirements and all organisations which can do so will be awarded contracts. However, organisations seeking higher numbers of matter starts may need advanced panel accreditation. Family practitioners will be able to apply for licensed work only contracts if they wish.

Timetable

  • SQ opens – April 2017
  • Notification of SQ outcome – June 2017
  • ITTs open (except HPCDS) – August 2017
  • Notification of ITT outcome – December 2017
  • Verifiation process – January – March 2018
  • Contract starts – 1 April 2018

Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes

Those interested in Housing Court Possession Duty Schemes are warned that the government is currently consulting on whether to increase the size of the schemes, so that some could cover a number of courts. They are also considering an element of price competition in relation to HPCDS work. At first sight, it is difficult to see how economies of scale could result by simply grouping courts together as proposed. The consultation opened on Friday 20 January and will close on 17 March 2017. You can download the consultation paper and respond here.

  • Notification of Housing, Debt and Welfare Benefits contracts will be prior to the HPCDS ITT opening – in October 2017
  • HPCDS ITT opens – October 2017
  • HPCDS ITT outcome – January 2018

More flexibility

The LAA says that the new contracts are likely to be more flexible in a number of ways which practitioners may find helpful:

  • Allowing remote working arrangements such as delivery of advice by email, telephone or video conferencing where appropriate
  • Ability to self grant up to an additional 50% of matter starts over those awarded
  • Ability to reallocate up to 50% of matter starts between your own offices (subject to LAA consent)
  • All organisations will receive 5 miscellaneous matter starts in addition to their category matter starts

Likely changes you may need to plan for

  • Stricter definition of ’employ’ in relation to supervisors
  • Changes to the mental health supervisor standard
  • Limits to representation by counsel/agents in mental health
  • New mental health capacity (welfare) accreditation will become mandatory for that work when appropriate
  • The immigration/asylum contract will reflect changes to the IAAS scheme
  • Immigration/asylum bidders in higher lot sizes will also be able to bid for IRC work

Telephone contracts

The LAA will also be tendering for specialist telephone work, including an element of price competition in the following areas of law:

  • Family
  • Housing and debt
  • Discrimination
  • Special educational needs

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Filed under Actions Against the Police, Civil, Clinical Negligence, Community Care, Family, Housing, Immigration, Mental Health, Public Law, Social welfare, Uncategorized

New process for CCMS contingency applications

The LAA has changed its process for so-called “contingency” applications – that is, those that have to be made via paper because CCMS is down and the application is so urgent that it can’t wait until CCMS is available again.

If you have an urgent case and you can’t access CCMS – and you can’t exercise your delegated functions – you will need to contact the online technical support team. You’ll need to provide evidence (generally, screenshots) showing that you’ve tried to access CCMS at least twice and not been able to over a period of at least 24 hours.

The online support team will consider the circumstances – including both the state of CCMS and the nature of your application. If they agree you can use the contingency process, you will be emailed a cover sheet so that you can email a paper application. You will also be issued a contingency reference number which must be quoted in the application. The contingency reference number is your permission to use this process; if the online support team refuse to issue you one, any paper application will not be considered.

The LAA’s guidance note on the new process can be found here.

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Immigration/asylum and mental health peer review guides available

The LAA continues to use peer review, conducted by independent lawyers under the auspices of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, as its measure of legal quality. A new cohort of peer reviewers has been recruited and the LAA has gradually been releasing ‘Improving Your Quality’ guides to help practitioners, which are available on its website.

There are five possible ratings;

  1. Excellence
  2. Competence plus
  3. Threshold competence
  4. Below competence
  5. Failure in performance

Face to face contracts require practices to achieve at least threshold competence.

Crime, Family and Housing guides have been available for some time. Immigration/asylum and mental health guides have been added more recently. This initiative is to be welcomed but it is a shame the guides themselves are not of a consistent standard. At only 14 pages the immigration/asylum guide has little specific detail.  Guides to the other areas of law range from 38 pages (mental health) to 76 pages (family). Whilst the content of the immigration/asylum guide is useful as far as it goes, it is a shame that it lacks the depth that makes some of the others more helpful.

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LAA amends standard costs limits

The LAA is to increase the default costs limits on a range of civil certificates. The new limits are:

  • Actions against the police etc – £6,000
  • Community care – £3,500
  • Immigration and asylum- £4,500
  • Mental health – £5,000
  • Special Children Act cases – £9,000

The new higher limits apply only to substantive cases within the category, not to judicial review. Certificates for judicial review cases, and for categories not listed above, remain at existing default limits. The process for applying to amend a costs limit hasn’t changed, but the LAA hopes fewer applications will be necessary.

Emergency certificates remain at a default limit of £1,350 – though you can exercise the delegated function to amend the cost limit up to £10,000 as long as it is to do urgent work and the emergency certificate hasn’t expired or been subsumed into a substantive one.

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Upcoming training – with free books!

Our publisher LAG is running training courses by two of the Handbook’s editors as part of its autumn training programme.

Vicky Ling is delivering “Managing Civil Legal Aid Contracts” in London on 15 September. Participants get a free copy of the Handbook. More details here.

Anthony Edwards is embarking on a national tour speaking on criminal costs. Participants get a free copy of our sister publication, Anthony’s book (with Colin Beaumont) Criminal Costs. More details, including dates and venues, here.

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Merits tests amended from 22nd July

Following its successful appeal in IS in the Court of Appeal, the LAA announced that it would no longer fund cases that were “poor” or “borderline”. We questioned at the time whether it could lawfully take such an approach before the regulations that set out the merits tests were amended.

Amending regulations have now been laid and come into force on 22nd July. However, the LAA has changed its policy in the last month.

Funding for “borderline” cases will now remain in place in much the same way as before. But where cases categorised as “poor” but not “very poor” would be funded pre-IS, from 22nd July they won’t be. A new category of “marginal” prospects of success has been created for cases where prospects are 45% or above, which will be funded with the same stricter criteria that apply to borderline cases. “Poor” now means below 45%, and those cases drop out of funding.

If you didn’t apply for funding in a borderline or marginal case because of the LAA’s erroneous announcement last month, it will now be worth doing so.

The new criteria don’t apply to any cases where the initial application was made before 22nd July 2016.

More on the LAA site here.

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As you were – merits tests back to 50% or above

We reported the likely impact of the Court of Appeal in The Director of Legal Aid Casework and Lord Chancellor v IS [2016] EWCA Civ 464. The Court found that the merits test, limiting legal aid to cases with a prospect of success over 50% was lawful.

Following the earlier decision by Collins J, the LAA had widened the merits test in 2015 to include the possibility of funding in cases which were poor or borderline. The LAA has now told the representative bodies that with immediate effect, it will no longer fund applications for civil legal aid representation certificates with less than a 50%, or borderline, prospect of success. It says practitioners should do the same when exercising delegated functions.

The LAA says that it is ‘considering’ changes to the Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulations, which set out the merits tests, but no changes have yet been made. It’s not clear to us that the LAA has the power to refuse applications that meet the criteria in the regulations (including the borderline and poor criteria), or that it would be acting lawfully if it did so, unless the regulations were actually amended. However, it has made it clear that it will not fund such cases with immediate effect.

This could change if permission to appeal to the Supreme Court is given; but for now practitioners need to take this into account when using delegated functions or making applications to the LAA.

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LAA announces plans for civil contract tenders 

The LAA has published a statement setting out its long terms plans for re-tendering and harmonising civil contracts. It says:

It is our intention to align all face to face civil contracts from April 2018.

New contracts in relation to welfare benefits, immigration removal centres and HPCDS will be awarded to end on 31 March 2018. All existing standard civil contracts (except Mediation) that are due to end before 31 March 2018 will be extended through to this date.

To enable this alignment it is also our intention to end any contract that runs past 31 March 2018 early (ie actions against the police etc, clinical negligence and public law).

The only exception to this is the 2014 welfare benefits contracts, which will be re-tendered in 2016 for new contracts to run from 1 November 2016.

So it is likely that there will be a major civil procurement exercise in late 2017. We don’t yet know what form that will take or whether there will be a competitive element.

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LAA changes assessment of emergency certificates

Yesterday, the LAA informed the representative bodies that it would be changing its approach to assessment of emergency certificates immediately. As far as we are aware they have not made a public announcement yet. Usually, such lack of notice would attract criticism; but perhaps practitioners should hold fire on this occasion.

First, because the issue relates to the situation where an emergency certificate expires before a substantive is issued. As emergency certificates last for eight weeks, the change will not affect people immediately. Second, because the change is an improvement for practitioners.

Up to the change, if a substantive certificate followed seamlessly with no break in time, the limitation on the substantive would also apply to the period covered by the emergency certificate (as per point of principle 58).  However, if there was a break between the two, work in the intervening period would not be covered and the limitations to each would be applied separately.

From 13 October, the LAA said it will treat work done in any intervening period as being conducted ‘at risk’, and will be paid for if the substantive certificate covers all the work undertaken.

We understand that the LAA will shortly be updating the Electronic Handbook and making an official announcement of this change.

 

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