Tag Archives: CCMS

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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LAPG launches survey on CCMS

LAPG has launched a survey to gather feedback on CCMS. It is aimed at all practitioners, not just LAPG members, and will provide valuable information on user perspectives to assist in lobbying the LAA for change. LAPG says:

We want to capture what is happening with CCMS. We receive more email correspondence on CCMS than on all other subjects put together. We have prepared a survey to find out what the current position is with CCMS.  The survey is here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NDHNT6W

We hear from the LAA that some practices find it fine but that does not reflect the feedback that we receive. However if you think it is ok then it would be really helpful if you could complete the survey.

Here’s what you need to know:-

  • It will remain open until Friday 3 March.
  • Please do put CCMS references in – we know people tend to prefer anonymity but we hope that there will be sufficient numbers completing the survey to give people comfort.
  • We have piloted it with many people and we are very grateful to them for all their help. The more people completed it, the more problems were raised and we were asked to incorporate more and more into the survey. So it may take half an hour to fill it in comprehensively.
  • You can skip sections but essentially the structure is
    • Applications
    • Amendments
    • Billing/POAs
    • Incorrect actions and
    • General issues such as stability.
  • Generally questions ask about CCMS since 1 January 2017. Why? Because if we collect older data and changes have been made, then that is of limited value.

What is the point of the survey? We have told the LAA that we are carrying it out and indeed sent them a draft of the survey. Our aim is to collect up to date information in a form that we can present to the LAA and MoJ. If our members who complain about CCMS are representative of the majority then there are a lot of issues that need sorting. The danger is that the view represented in the LAA Annual Report 2015-2016 goes unchallenged.

The Report said:- ‘The system was rolled out to all civil legal aid providers on a voluntary basis from September 2014, and was mandated in phases during 2015- 16. From 1 April 2016, it became mandatory to submit all civil applications online through the CCMS. Submitting both applications and bills using the CCMS, saves providers time and the cost of sending paper forms through the post.’

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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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CCMS Mandatory from 1 April

The roll out of CCMS continues. It became mandatory for care cases on 1 February, and the rest of civil work joins from 1 April.

There is a two week transitional period, so that paper applications may still be submitted provided they are dated before 8 April and received by 14 April. After that, paper applications will not be accepted except where CCMS is inaccessible due to technical issues.

CCMS is not mandatory for crime providers doing associated civil work and for out of hours immigration cases; all other legal aid contract holders must now use it.

There is more about the implementation on the LAA website, and about the contingency arrangements for technical failure (including the necessary form) on the CCMS training website. See also our post on claiming the costs of extra time caused by CCMS problems.

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Claiming costs for #CCMSfail

Our recent guest post from Noel Arnold prompted an interesting comment from Paul Seddon, chair of the Association of Costs Lawyers legal aid group. In case readers saw the original post before the comment was posted, it’s worth reproducing here:

When the certificate is live, LAA Finance told us at ACL Legal Aid Group Conference that any time on CCMS exceeding paper based process should be claimed as ex gratia payment – reason given was that it would unduly prejudice any client subject to the statutory charge.

It seems that the LAA has said that any time claimed under the certificate dealing with CCMS which exceeds what would have been spent had the case been on paper will be disallowed, so the ex gratia route is the main way of re-claiming lost time.

Matt Howgate, who used to administer the ex gratia scheme for the LAA, has written a useful article on making claims.

Resolution has launched a survey asking for feedback from CCMS users:

 

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CCMS is upon us

This is a guest post by Noel Arnold in which he shares some of his recent experiences of using CCMS.

There is less than a month to go before use of the Legal Aid Agency’s electronic working platform, CCMS, becomes mandatory in all civil categories of certificated work on 1 April.

Some of my CCMS experiences have been perfectly fine and I have thought, on occasion, that it’s not so bad after all. I have also had some utterly infuriating experiences. I am however supportive of electronic working as a concept. Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen my rants under the hashtag (#CCMSfail) I created for all to share their CCMS woes. As doomsday looms, I want to share my relatively recent experience of trying to enter the outcome of a case and then submitting a bill of costs through CCMS. This was torturous. It didn’t work and I had to make several calls to people at the LAA who themselves didn’t know what to do, had to ask someone else and promised to call me back. They didn’t, so I had to chase. I had to go through the process I was trying to complete with someone at the LAA mirroring what I was doing while on the phone with that person. This all went on for some time.

If I was making interim applications like an amendment request or completing a means review etc then I would simply have charged all that ‘wasted time’ to the file and would have certainly expected the LAA to have paid for that time when the claim for costs was assessed. In this situation the legal aid certificate was discharged; I was submitting a final bill of costs. It was now too problematic to reverse this in order to add all my wasted time into the claim for costs.

So I set about making a complaint to ho.complaints@legalaid.gsi.gov.uk. Some of the points below I dealt with in my complaint to the LAA. Some others I have set out as matters I would address if I had to do this again (which I hope would not occur):

  • Summary of all the trouble and difficulties;
  • Why I believe that it was CCMS to blame rather than any other factors;
  • That had things worked as they should have, I would have been spared wasting so much time;
  • That the LAA should make right the situation which in my view means making an ex gratia payment for the wasted time;
  • My private charge out rate is £XX, and were it not for the time I had to spend on CCMS I would have been doing fee earning work at that rate;
  • The time I wasted, plus emails and phone calls, amounted to £YY at that rate. I enclosed a schedule of time spent, not including the time it would have taken me to submit the bill had the system worked properly.

There was a period of months before I got a final response, though I chased periodically. Eventually, and I should say, much to my surprise the LAA responded and said they would make the payment but not quite the total I asked for. So I considered their response. It didn’t make sense to me. I queried this. I kindly requested the whole amount. Then a cheque came in the post for the amount the LAA said it was willing to pay. More chasing from me and then again to my surprise the LAA said it would pay the full amount I had asked for. A little later another cheque arrived.

My view is that we should embrace CCMS in the hope that it continues to improve and will work for us, the key users. Where it doesn’t we should report issues to the LAA so they are aware. We should feed information to our representative groups such as the LAPG and Resolution (first for family law). Importantly, in my view, we should not lose fee-earning time. It should be charged in full to the file. Emails should be kept and any messages posted to the LAA via CCMS printed or documented on the file and time recorded. The same goes for phone calls and all attendances and other time spent doing something on CCMS. All this should be time-recorded with case file notes prepared justifying or explaining the time spent and why. We should expect all that time to be paid by the LAA.

The LAA’s aim to introduce electronic working is laudable. I for one support the aim but any defects or inefficiencies in the system should not cause prejudice to providers and should certainly not cause any financial loss.

Noel Arnold is Director of Legal Practice at Coram Children’s Legal Centre. He is the Vice-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children and sits on the Law Society’s Children Law Sub-committee. In July 2015, Noel became the inaugural winner of the award for ‘Children’s rights’ at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards. The views expressed here are his own and not that of any other person or organisation. Follow Noel on Twitter @children_law

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News miscellany

A round up of some recent news:

Mandatory CCMS roll out

The LAA has announced that CCMS won’t be made mandatory until 1 April 2016 – but the original date of 1 February stays in place for Special Children Act cases.

Legal aid statisitics

The latest legal aid statistics were published this week and made for the usual depressing reading. Crime expenditure and workload continues to fall, as does Legal Help. Two bright spots were that grants of civil certificates were up 9%, and the grant rate for exceptional funding has risen to almost half of applications – though the numbers of applications hasn’t increased on the same period last year.

Waiting for legal aid not a good reason for delay

Last week the Court of Appeal gave judgment in Kigen & Anor, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2015] EWCA Civ 1286, a case in which the appellants appealed against refusal to grant an extension for lodging a judicial review application. The Court made clear that delays caused by waiting for decisions of the Legal Aid Agency will no longer be an acceptable reason for delay or for the grant of an extension of time.

Moore-Bick LJ said that “It may be that, in the light of the older authorities to which I have referred, solicitors in general may have been under the impression that any delay awaiting a decision by the Legal Aid Agency would simply be ignored if an extension of time were required as a result. That is not the case and it is to be hoped that any such misunderstanding will have been dispelled as a result of the decision in this case. Those acting for parties in the position of these appellants will in future need to take steps either to lodge the necessary form promptly on behalf of their clients or to advise them of the need to do so on their own behalf. Failure to lodge the necessary request within the prescribed time may in future result in an extension of time being refused.” (para 29).

Leave was granted in this case, exceptionally, because of that general impression. But the court made clear that, in future, delays in getting legal aid granted will not be a good reason for delay. There’s more analysis of this case at the Civil Litigation Brief blog.

Costs Protection in the Upper Tribunal

Free Movement has a post that’s worth reading on costs protection for legally aided clients in immigration judicial review proceedings before the Upper Tribunal.

House of Lords debates legal aid cuts again

The House of Lords debated the cuts to legal aid again last week. Once again various members set out the problems the cuts have caused, and once again the government promised a review of LASPO’s implementation but made no promise of changes. The transcript of the debate is here.

Not for profit legal aid providers

The MoJ released a survey of NfP providers this week. The survey found that the NfP sector had halved in size since the last major study ten years ago; unsurprising, perhaps, since 90% of NfP providers stopped doing legal aid work as a result of the LASPO cuts.

Earnings from crime 

The MoJ has also published a study of earnings from the Crime AGFS. It shows that average earnings have declined in recent years, from £97,000 to £90,000 for “notionally full-time” advocates. Advocacy has been protected from the recent fee cuts affecting police station and litigation work.

 

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