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Legal Aid Agency Response to COVID-19- What you need to know
During this unprecedented time, the Legal Aid Agency has published advice setting out what they have put in place to help providers to continue to provide services for clients during the coronavirus outbreak.
The measures outlined below will be applied until 30 June 2020, however the LAA will keep this under review on at least a monthly basis.
Ways of working
During this outbreak, the LAA is focused on maintain the levels of service whilst identifying new ways of working and flexibilities that can make processes as easy as possible for legal aid firms to continue to provide essential advice to clients and continue to finalise and bill matters and get paid.
We have already highlighted in an earlier article the ways providers can improve their cash flow by making payments on account.
The LAA recognises that the current situation will have cash flow implications for providers and as a priority the LAA will be processing bills and other payments as rapidly as possible. Therefore don’t delay in sending any files you have ready for billing to us!
The LAA are working with the Ministry of Justice and provider representative bodies to investigate what other immediate actions they can take to support legal aid firms.
Assessing Financial Eligibility where a Client cannot attend
The contract specification allows providers in certain situations to assess means without accompanying evidence where it is not practicable to do so.
Where a client is staying at home, it may still be possible to collect evidence by email or post. Reasonable efforts to collect evidence should still be made and recorded, before assessing without evidence if that is not possible.
Using Digital Signatures
Digital signatures will be acceptable as an alternative to handwritten signatures and will meet the contact specification requirements. This applies to both client signatures and where a signature is required by the provider.
The LAA will accept all digital method which meet the requirements outlined as Simple Contracts in the Law Society practice note.
In situations where it is not possible to get a client signature, digitally or otherwise, please make a note on the file explaining why, countersigned by a supervisor, and also make a note on the application/form when submitted to avoid delays or issues with processing. You will need to seek a signature at the earliest possible opportunity.
Increased submission timescales
The LAA have suspended time limits for delegated function applications, substantive amendments and appeals against LAA decisions.
Paper applications for clinical negligence cases
Clinical negligence applications, including applications to amend older CIS certificates and pre-Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act certificates should no longer be posted or sent by DX.
The following steps are required to send applications to the exceptional and complex case team:
The LAA have advised that providers and legally aided clients make online banking payments using their invoice or certificate number as a reference, which will avoid funding delays.
Office working restrictions mean that the LAA are currently unable to process or receipt cheques sent through the postal system to the Cash Office and Collections Team.
With many hearings now taking place by telephone or video conference, how does a provider give evidence on the hearing when submitting the final claim? Attendance notes will suffice as evidence whether the hearing is held by video or telephone conference.
If bolt-ons are included as part of the claim, this should be included in the attendance note.
Claiming travel expenses
If public transport is limited in your area due to the coronavirus outbreak, then using a taxi or your own personal vehicle is permissible and claimable from the LAA only where travel is necessary.
You should keep a note on the file as to why public transport was not used and ensure this is submitted with the final claim.
The LAA will continue to only reject bills which are missing information fundamental to the assessment process. Bills which the LAA are able to agree will be paid promptly.
If you have had a claim rejected incorrectly, then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay up to date
At John M Hayes we remained committed to helping you with all your costing needs. Please contact us with any costing queries that you may have, no question is a silly question!
If you have not done so please send us any instructions you may have for billing to help finalise matters and regulate cash flow. Please follow the link of further information https://www.johnmhayes.co.uk/news/covid-19-further-update/
Thursday 2nd April 2020