Tag Archives: community care

Civil/Family contracts for 2018 tender postponed

The Legal Aid Agency has announced today that it has had to postpone the civil and family contracts tender, expected to open in May, until after the election.

No new date has been set and the Agency will issue more information when it is able to do so.

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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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LAA annual report 2014-15

The LAA’s recently published annual report shows how much less money has been spent on securing legal advice and representation for the poorest people in England and Wales. There was an overall net reduction in expenditure of £244 million (all figures in £000), a further decrease from 2013-14, which was the first year of the LASPO scope cuts.  The reasons for the increase in crime higher were given as higher numbers of sitting days and more pages of prosecution evidence in more complex cases.

Funding type                                                          2014-15               2013-14

Civil legal help                                                       112,165                 129,776

Civil representation                                             510,212                  693,527

Crime lower                                                           332,578                 367,304

Crime higher                                                          586,457                 553,677

Central funds                                                          44,238                    89,070

The costs of legal aid administration reduced by £3.1 million, when calculated on a cash basis; although total administration costs rose by £3.3 million, largely due to the development of the widely criticised CCMS system for civil applications and bill processing, which will now not become mandatory until February 2016.

Key milestones noted include:

  • Sustained monthly above target levels for processing civil applications (97% in 20 working days)
  • Quicker processing of civil bills (99% in 25 days)
  • Reject rates for civil bills brought down to 9.2% (against a 15% target)
  • Call waiting times for the civil certificated helpline below 2 minutes 48 seconds
  • Abandoned call rate for the civil certificated helpline 10.47% (target 12%)

In relation to internal issues, the LAA:

  • Launched a management skills programme for their staff
  • Increased participation in their staff survey to 89%
  • Had lower staff sickness than the civil service average (7.1 days against 7.6 days)

Plans for the future include:

  • Concluding the legal aid change programme
  • Making CCMS compulsory
  • Finalising the transfer of crime application processing from HMCTS
  • Developing crime online billing
  • Improving telephone answering and support for digital working by providers
  • Making the LAA a better place to work

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Conditional funding for judicial review irrational, High Court says

Part of the government’s “transforming legal aid” agenda was to “restore public confidence” in the operation of judicial review by ensuring that only meritorious cases were brought. The method chosen to achieve that was to make payment for judicial review work conditional on permission being granted by the court (with limited exceptions, at the discretion of the LAA). Regulations to that effect came into force on 22 April 2014.

Four solicitors firms – Ben Hoare Bell, Deighton Pierce Glynn, Mackintosh Law and Public Law Solicitors – and the housing charity Shelter challenged the regulations. The claimants represent the range of judicial review work, covering between them work across categories such as immigration, housing, community care, public law and actions against the police, and were supported by witness evidence from a number of other organisations.

The High Court gave judgment today in Ben Hoare Bell Solicitors & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor [2015] EWHC 523 (Admin). The grounds of challenge were that a) the Lord Chancellor had no power to make the regulations introducing conditional funding; b) the regulations were inconsistent with the statutory purpose of LASPO; and c) that they would have a chilling effect on access to the courts, because providers would not be able to risk taking on work without payment.

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CCMS mandatory from October

The LAA announced this week that the Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) will become mandatory for new civil applications and bills from 1 October 2015.  The LAA has served notice under clause 20 of the Standard Civil Contract. Organisations should have received formal notification by email, which should be confirmed by post by the end of January.

The LAA says it is giving greater notice than strictly required under the contract to give practitioners time to train and get used to the new system gradually. Feedback from practioners suggests that the LAA also needs to undertake development in order to make the system work well before it becomes mandatory. Resolution has been leading the representative bodies in pressing the LAA for improvements in functionality.

The LAA has made online training modules available which take practitioners through the relevant stages:

  • Getting access to the system
  • Training
  • Starting to use the system
  • Masterclasses
  • Support available

In addition, they have provided face to face sessions in a number of practices. Resolution has provided a comprehensive guide for its members, based on the experience of members in the north east who were involved in the pilot.

CCMS means the way you deal with legal aid administration will have to change significantly. Practitioners would be well advised to take full advantage of the lead in period before October.

 

 

 

 

 

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Good news if you need NMS

The LAA has issued new guidance to its Contract Managers which may make it easier for practitioners to get more civil New Matter Starts (NMS) if they run out.

This is less of an issue than it used to be under the Access to Justice Act scheme when more Controlled Work was done; but we still hear reports from some practitioners that they have run out of NMS and when they asked their Contract Manager for more, were told that another practice in their Procurement Area (PA) still had some, so they should send the client there. This is clearly unsatisfactory from both the client’s and the practice’s point of view.

However, from 22 January 2015, whether another practice in the PA has NMS is no longer to be taken into account.

You will need to convince your Contract Manager:

  • you are unable to meet an urgent demand for your services
  • or
  • an urgent need arises because another practice has reduced or stopped providing the service
  • or
  • there is a general increase in demand for services of that type in your PA

The Contract Manager can authorise up to another 50% on top of your original schedule allocation (so if your initial allocation was 100, you can be awarded up to 50 more that year).

If you applied for a lot size in the tender that allowed you to self grant up to an additonal 50%, you cannot apply to your Contract Manager for more.

In exceptional circumstances, the Contract Manager may be able to grant additional NMS to address emergency situations.

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Catch LAPG’s conference early bird deal

The LAPG conference will take place in London on 10 October. As usual, it features speakers from the LAA, MOJ, and Law Society amongst others, to bring you the very latest developments in legal aid. In addition, leading practitioners will provide workshops to help you run your legal aid practice successfully. Workshops include; family, social welfare law, recent developments in JR and exceptional funding, best practice in recruitment, working with interns, maxmising costs in civil and crime, Young Legal Aid Lawyers.

There will also be a debate on who and what will survive the unprecedented changes which continue to affect all categories of law. Recent conferences have sold out – can you afford to miss this opportunity to get completely up to speed in just one day? If you can get to London the night before, the pre conference dinner (£66.00 per head) is a good chance to catch up with colleagues and network with new people. LAPG can put you in touch with members who can offer overnight accommodation, so you won’t have hotel expenses.

But hurry – the early bird conference deal (£174 inc VAT for LAPG members and £234 for non members) is only available until 12 September. Book using the conference flyer which can be downloaded here.

 

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