Getting paid by the LSC
The LSC has informed Resolution that the backlog on payment of certificated claims has reduced by 33% since July and 94% of bills are paid within 30 days of receipt.
They say that appeal backlogs have also reduced and most of their offices are now dealing with first reviews (i.e. reviews by LSC staff prior to referral to Independent Adjudicators) within 35 days. The LSC is continuing to prioritise reducing the time taken to deal with appeals on bills.
There is a price to be paid for this, and as the LSC can only increase its staff complement to a limited extent, it has had to extend reduced telephone hours (Civil Certificated enquiries: 0300 200 2020 - 10-12 and 3-5 for urgent matters only) until the end of January 2012.
On the other hand, emergency certificates granted until the end of January will continue to be valid for eight weeks.
The latest position on processing dates can be found here.
Guidance on reducing bill rejects
The LSC has issued a checklist of documents that need to be submitted with claims from 1 December 2011.
They have also warned that where a claim is submitted including work that is outside the scope of the certificate, or where the wrong rates have been claimed will be returned to be amended or resubmitted to the Court.
Counsels’ fee notes must match the amounts detailed in the claim, the assessment certificate and the bill assessed by the Court.
The LSC’s guidance note can be downloaded here.
New approach on rejects
For some time, the LSC has taken one approach to Hard rejects (errors or omissions which were the practitioner’s fault), these are sent back and go to be back of the queue on re-submission. The LSC has used a different approach to soft rejects (problems with documentation where guidance may not be clear), it has telephoned the practitioner and held work for 5 days whilst information was supplied.
However, the Commission has found that this approach was not effective, as often the information was not supplied within 5 days or did not resolve the issue, so that the form had to be returned in any event.
The LSC will treat hard rejects in the same way; but the approach to soft rejects will be replaced by a new system of priority returns. If the LSC determines you could not have known the required information when a form was submitted, they will first try to obtain it by telephone. Where a document needs to be supplied, the papers will be returned with a Priority Return Form so that the work goes to the head of the queue on re-submission.
If you feel the LSC has rejected a form in error, you will need to contact the contact centre or regional office by phone or email. If the Supervisor agrees, you will be sent a Priority Return Form.
Claiming interim bills
There has been a lot of confusion on the best way to submit online claims for payment on account of costs. The latest information we have been given is below:
- Claims for payment on account of costs in private law fixed fee cases should be claimed as reason ‘A’.
- When using eforms firms can choose whether to add all elements of a claim (e.g. domestic law, private law children PFLRS and FAS claims), or to submit them separately.
- If you choose to separate them out onto different lines, they will only count as one claim for the purposes of making two claims within a twelve month period, as long as they are on the same POA1, and so submitted on the same day.
Updated letter for instructing experts
Resolution’s Legal Aid Committee has been working with the Association of Lawyers for Children to revise its useful precedent letter for instructing experts. The revised letter should be available in January.
Preparing for assessment to a quality standard
All firms awarded a contract will have to have current accreditation to a quality standard within six months of the contract start date.
The Law Society has a useful checklist which will help you assess how close you are to meeting the Lexcel standard. It can be downloaded from the box on the right hand side of the page here.
The SQM Delivery Partnership has given Resolution a similar checklist for the use of members seeking accreditation to the Specialist Quality Mark.
Mergers and changes in legal entity – LSC issues novation guidance
Just a reminder that you need to notify the Commission of material constitutional changes, such as a change in the identity of more than a third of partners, members of an LLP or directors of a company (see clauses 21 and 22 of the Standard Terms for more information).
The LSC has recently issued guidance on its approach when requested to novate a contract. They have confirmed that they will normally agree to novate a contract if two or more providers merge; but due to issues relating to procurement law, the LSC will not agree to ‘split’ a contract (e.g. dividing matter starts between two new firms created by a partnership split).
The LSC must be given at least a month’s notice via your Contract Manager and you should get a decision within a month.
The guidance can be downloaded here
Legal Aid Bill update
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill entered the House of Lords earlier this month. At the debate on its second reading, over 50 peers raised their concerns about Part 1 of the Bill (concerning legal aid). Resolution provided a briefing note to some of the key players in the debate, and was even referenced directly by Baroness Massey.
A week after the second reading, Resolution, in conjunction with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, Gingerbread and Rights of Women, held a briefing session on LASPO, which was hosted by Baroness Butler-Sloss (former President of the Family Division),and attended by 12 peers, including Baroness Scotland (former Attorney General), Lord Bach (Opposition Justice Spokesperson) and Lord Thomas (co-chair of the Liberal Democrats Backbencher Justice Committee). The meeting went extremely well, with a number of peers already tabling amendments to the Bill that we have suggested.
We will continue to make contact with as many interested peers as we can ahead of the Bill’s committee stage, which starts on Tuesday 20th December (just before the Christmas break), with the sections on legal aid expected to be addressed in the new year.
Legal aid reform timetable update
As many readers will know from our email of the 1st of December, the government issued a written Ministerial statement which set out the timetable for the expected cuts in the scope of legal aid and other developments.
The scope reductions will be implemented (subject to Parliamentary approval) in April 2013, although the fee cuts which have already been implemented, will stand.
This means that the contracts which will start in February 2012 will run until the end of March 2013 and the LSC will not have to give notice of early termination. We will share information about the tendering process for contracts starting in April 2013 as soon as we can.
In the longer term, the government believes that competitive tendering is likely to deliver sustainability and value for money. It will start with criminal defence work, with civil and family being addressed over a longer period. It aims to publish a consultation paper on competition strategy towards the end of 2013, with a view to the first contracts under that system going live the following year.
This is obviously welcome news, and we believe comes as a result of the points we have been making to Government. However, it only represents a delay in implementation, rather than a change of policy. Resolution will therefore continue to press for significant changes to the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, as outlined in the update elsewhere in this newsletter.
Many thanks to all of those who filled in our survey on the impact LASPO will have on you and your clients – we had over 260 responses and over 50 client surveys back too. We will be publishing the results in the new year, to coincide with the relevant sessions of the House of Lords committee stage, but here are the main highlights:
· 87% said less than 25% of current cases would qualify for legal aid;
· 41% of cases would not be suitable for mediation;
· Nearly half (42%) believe that appropriate legal advice has meant that at least half their cases settled without going to court;
· Almost three quarters (74%) think that, of those cases that did go to court will be settled before the final hearing;
· Nearly all (94%) say that that 75% of clients would not be able to reach a settlement without legal advice;
· 96% worried that 75% of clients would not know if the settlement was fair.
By way of thanks, courtesy of Open Road, we are pleased to announce that a bottle of champagne is on its way to Gail Strange at Bernard Chill & Axtell, who was selected at random from the 260-plus responses we had. We will also be sending a bottle to the firm that sends in the most client responses in the New Year, so there is still time between now and Christmas to get more of those in if you can: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ResolutionClients
New Legal Aid Committee Co-Chair
We are delighted to announce that Elspeth Thomson has been appointed as Co-Chair of Resolution’s Legal Aid Committee, working alongside the current Chair, David Emmerson.
Elspeth has already played a key role as a member of the committee, as well as through her role on the National Committee, and her appointment is in recognition of this. It also reflects the amount of work going into legal aid, by NC, EC and staff at this critical time, particularly in the light of the fast-moving developments around the Bill.
More top tips on the way
In recent months we have featured some top tips from Resolution members on how to make the best of the LSC’s fixed fee schemes and avoid the pitfalls that can catch out the unwary. Many more will feature in our January edition.