Tag Archives: welfare benefits

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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Legal Aid Agency changes start date for civil and family tender

On the 20th of January, the LAA announced that it intended to run a two-stage tender process for civil and family contracts to start in April 2018 and that stage 1 would probably start in April 2017, with stage 2 in August 2017. In February they announced that a family mediation tender would open at the same time.

On Friday 17 March, they announced that instead they would be running both the selection criteria and invitation to tender stages together in May 2017.

Practitioners will need to remain vigilant and watch out for further LAA announcements. They can be found here.

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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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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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Legal aid in welfare benefits cases

Our thanks to Nick Whittingham for drawing to our attention a case involving Kirklees Law Centre, which was refused legal aid to appear at an oral hearing of the Upper Tribunal in a welfare benefits case. It continued to represent the appellant pro bono, as did counsel Tom Royston. The decision is reported at JC v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (ESA) (Employment and support allowance : Post 28.3.11. WCA activity 16: coping with social engagement) [2014] UKUT 352 (AAC)

In a three judge decision – the panel including Charles J, the Upper Tribunal president and a First Tier Tribunal president – the Tribunal regretted the refusal of legal aid and set out a series of factors it invited the LAA to take into account when considering future applications (see para 63):

More generally we take this opportunity to invite the Legal Aid Agency in other cases where a three judge panel of the Upper Tribunal (AAC) has been convened to hear an appeal to take account of  the following:

i)                 Paragraph 3(a) of the Senior President’s Practice Direction relating to the composition of that tribunal and thus the reasons why the Senior President or the Chamber President can direct a three judge panel.  They are that: “… the matter involves a question of law of special difficulty or an important point of principle or practice, or that it is otherwise appropriate …” for there to be a three judge panel.

ii)                These directions are not made lightly.  When they are the legal issues involved will be of that nature, the appeals will involve individuals and the Secretary of State and decision making will be greatly assisted by written and oral argument.

iii)               The role of the Upper Tribunal (AAC) in setting precedent and thus consistency of decision making by First-tier Tribunals in respect of claims for benefits, and thus the wide impact of its decisions on cases heard by First-tier Tribunals.

iv)               The great advantage of resolving differences between decisions of single Upper Tribunal judges by a decision of a three judge panel.  This is based on the long standing practice that three judge panel decisions will be followed by both the Upper Tribunal and the First-tier Tribunal.  That practice avoids the need for such differences between single judges to be determined by the Court of Appeal and so greatly reduces the number of appeals to that court.

v)                The fact that the above points indicate that the grant of legal aid in cases to be heard by a three judge panel is likely to be of great assistance to the Upper Tribunal in resolving difficult and important issues of law that, subject to further appeal to the Court of Appeal, will create precedent and thereby assist in the correct determination of a large number of other cases by the Department and First-tier Tribunals.

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Legal aid – tell the NAO what you think but be quick

The National Audit Office is currently undertaking a study into whether the government’s civil legal aid reforms can be considered to represent value for money. The report will go to the respected Public Accounts Committee later this year. The NAO says that the views of the providers of legal aid services will form an important part of the study.

It is seeking your views through a short online survey, which will close on Friday 25th July 2014. It should take 15-20 minutes to complete and all responses will remain strictly anonymous. You can find the survey here.

UPDATE: The closing date has been extended to 1st August.

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