Civil contracts for 2018 – tender open

The Legal Aid Agency has opened the tender for civil, family and mediation contracts to start on 1 September 2018. If you want to do legal aid work after 31 August 2018, you must submit a bid by the closing date and time 10 November at 5pm. Details can be found here.

The contracts will run for three years with an option for the LAA to extend for two years. Existing contracts are being extended.

You need to bid using the LAA’s tendering portal here.

Apart from Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes (HPCDS) and the CLA telephone service, bids are not competitive. As long as you can demonstrate that you meet the LAA’s requirements, and submit a technically correct bid, you will get a contract. The details of the tenders for HPCDS and CLA contracts will be released soon.

Top tips for successful bids

  • Read the Information for Applicants carefully. The answers are almost always in there somewhere
  • Where they are not, submit a question through the message board on the portal – the LAA publishes all questions and answers received
  • Read the FAQs carefully and submit your bid after the final ones are published; but comfortably in advance of the tender closing date
  • Register your bids on the portal as early as you can and start completing the Selection Questionnaire (SQ) and the Invitation to Tender(s) (ITTs) you are interested in. You will know some of the answers straight away and can come back to the ones you need to go away and find information to complete
  • Allocate a small team to the bid – say two people to complete it and a third to check it
  • Make sure several people are registered to receive emails about the bid. Sometimes the LAA raises queries that need to be answered quickly. You don’t want to miss them

The Law Society is running tender workshops throughout England and Wales. They are recommended. Details here.

LAPG is also running workshops between 27 September – 3 October – details here – also recommended.

 

 

 

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

August round up

We’ve covered elsewhere the key LAA announcement – the timetable for the 2018 civil contracts tender – but there are a couple of other issues that’s it’s worth making sure didn’t get overlooked in the holiday season.

LAA online services – including CCMS, eforms, CWA, CCLF and the management information service – are accessed via the LAA portal. The portal is being upgraded on 11 September. It doesn’t seem that there will be a major overhaul of the look and functionality of the systems. But the LAA promises increased stability and faster log in times.

Crucially, following the upgrade all users will have to reset their passwords. In order to do that, they need to know their current passwords. So you should make sure that all users in your office know their current passwords and have checked they still work before 5 September – which is the last day for requesting a reset before the upgrade. More information here.

Meanwhile, online billing for Crown Court work (both AGFS and LGFS) will become mandatory from 31 October – more here.

Immigration practitioners looking for extra matter starts, including those that didn’t get any in the recent supplementary matter starts process, have been reminded that you can ask your contract manager for more matter starts when needed. The LAA has also issued news alerts drawing attention to the rules on claiming hourly rates  and on refunding client travel in immigration cases. News articles like this can be a useful reminder of how the LAA sees the rules following feedback of difficulties, but also an indicator of potential audit activity – so are something immigration practitioners will want to take note of.

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HPCDS tender – LAA events start soon

Further to its announcement, which we covered on the blog yesterday, the LAA has provided further information about its market engagement events for those interested in finding out more and providing an opportunity to influence the way Courts are grouped together in the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme tenders.

This is important as these bids will include an element of price competition, so the more you understand the LAA’s ratioanle, the better. They start very soon:

  • Birmingham – 29 August
  • Manchester – 30 August
  • Leeds – 4 September
  • London – 5 and 7 September
  • Liverpool – 6 September
  • Bristol – 8 September

We hope all practitioners thinking of submitting bids will take up this opportunity. You can find out more information, including how to book, here.

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Timetable for 2018 civil/family contracts announced

The LAA announced its long-awaited timetable for civil/family contracts today. This is for face to face contracts and the CLA telephone service.

The tender process for new contracts will open in mid-September (exact date not specified) and remain open for 8 weeks, closing in November.

The LAA expects to notify successful bidders about face to face contracts in March 2018, and the CLA telephone service contracts in May 2018.

The start of the new contracts will not be 1 April 2018, as previously announced; but 1 September 2018 (but see more information on Housing Court Possession Duty Scheme (HPCDS) contracts below).

In the meantime, current contracts will be extended.

The LAA announced in its headline intentions document in January 2017, that contracts in the following areas of law would be awarded to organisations meeting its suitability tests and able to meet quality standards: 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; and Public Law.

The Ministry of Justice also published its response to the consultation on the tender process for HPCDS work. The Ministry remains convinced that larger procurement areas will result in the contracts being financially sustainable. It will also include an element of price competition in these bids. However, it intends to conduct a series of market engagement events to inform the eventual tender process in relation to scheme boundaries. We hope Housing practitioners will attend the events and provide the Ministry with feedback about their local areas.

You will need a housing/debt contract to obtain a HPCDS contract, so the tender will open in October and run for 6 weeks. The outcomes will be notified in June 2018. New HPCDS contracts will start on 1 October 2018.

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LAA online news

The LAA was planning an upgrade of its online portal, due to complete in May. But May came and went, and yesterday it said it was working on a revised schedule. No new dates for the improvements were given.

It’s to be hoped that the upgrades – whenever they come – will include improvements to CCMS. LAPG’s Chris Minnoch reported recently on early findings from its survey of CCMS users, which showed support for online working in principle – but serious problems with CCMS in practice.

One issue for CCMS users is the time taken to submit applications for legal aid and getting properly paid for doing so. As we’ve reported before, the historic costs guidance that 30 minutes is reasonable – which dates from the days of paper applications – is still applied rigorously by the LAA, leaving ex gratia claims as the only remedy where longer is spent. So it was welcome news yesterday when the Public Law Project said that it was in talks with the LAA about amended guidance. It seems this arises out of an appeal against an allowance of 30 minutes for an application that took 3 hours.

Meanwhile, as of last Friday, the LAA will only communicate with crime firms electronically on case-related issues. All orders, notices, information requests and other correspondence will go to the email address associated with the e-forms account of the case owner. So it may be wise for firms to have systems for checking the emails of staff setting up cases when on leave – or to use a generic email address for all cases. Paper copies will continue to be sent to clients.

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New Justice Secretary Appointed 

Following the election the prime minister has demoted Liz Truss and replaced her with David Lidington. He was most recently Leader of the House of Commons, and before that Europe Minister, and is now the fourth Justice Secretary in the last three years. 

There has been no announcement yet of any reshuffle of junior MoJ ministers.

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New Law Society practice note on uneconomic criminal work

The Law Society has issued a new practice note setting out the requirements of the legal aid contracts and of professional conduct in deciding whether to accept instructions in criminal legal aid cases.

It reminds practitioners that, in the main, only duty solicitors acting as such are required to take on work – and then only of the types prescribed in the contract.

It also sets out the relevant professional conduct obligations. These apply both at the level of individual cases – such as the duty to advise of the availability of legal aid before accepting private instructions – but also at the level of practice management. There is a particular obligation on COLPs and COFAs to ensure their practices are managed responsibly, which includes financial prudence.

There is nothing new in the practice note but it comes at a time when changes to Crown Court fees and to court appointed work are under consideration (though no decisions will be made until after the general election). It reminds practitioners that they are not required to take on all cases and that there may be circumstances where there is a professional duty not to do so. The bar took a similar approach some years ago when it deemed criminal fees not to be a proper fee, thus exempting these cases from the cab rank rule.

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