The LSA has issued the key messages for legal aid suppliers for August 2020.
Case closure in the Legal Aid Management System (LAMS)
Case closure commenced on 8 August 2020 and has been running daily thereafter for all eligible cases. Practitioners are reminded as per LSA Circular 11/2020 that the next significant change to the auto closure of cases in LAMS took place on 1 September 2020.
Upon closure of a case, a system generated email notification will be sent to all suppliers attached to the case and they will no longer be able to submit any further requests through LAMS. If necessary however, they can still submit a message against the case or a request on LAMS asking that the case is re-opened. Under such circumstances, the reasons for re-opening the case will be required and should be detailed in the message request. The re-opening of the case will be considered in line with LSA’s published late claims policy.
Certificates of Exceptionality (Criminal)
Practitioners are reminded that Certificates of Exceptionality in criminal matters are issued to individuals and are not transferrable between solicitors in the same firm. If solicitors wish to apportion work in-house, this must be clearly noted in the initial application or at the next earliest opportunity.
Solicitor representatives should not undertake any additional preparation work until a Certificate of Exceptionality, issued to them, is in place. All elements of work carried out without an appropriate certificate will be disallowed and no payment shall be authorised in respect of same. This applies regardless of whether colleagues in the same firm have a certificate in place.
Please contact the Exceptionality and Criminal Authorities team via LAMS message function if you require clarification on an individual case.
Practitioners are encouraged to ensure appeal requests are submitted correctly and with all relevant documentation uploaded at first instance. This prevents any unnecessary delay in listing the appeal.
The Agency has noted an increasing number of tabling requests which relate to matters which have become urgent solely due to delays on the part of practitioners. Please ensure that the tabling process is not being used to remedy delays as listings before the panel are limited.
Practitioners are reminded of Regulation 10(3) which states:
“In any appeal brought under these Regulations, an appellant may not introduce or rely on any documentary material which the appellant did not provide to the Director at the time when the relevant decision was made, unless the Director is satisfied that the appellant could not with reasonable diligence have obtained that material prior to bringing the appeal.”
Practitioners are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the Agency’s decision making guidance. In particular practitioners should note Section C which sets out the supporting documentations which the Agency would typically expect to find accompanying applications.
Practitioners are reminded that when uploading supporting documentation to any request the document should be named appropriately using the titles in the drop down menu. Increasingly the Agency are seeing documents uploaded being labelled “other” and this slows down the adjudication process.
Third party correspondence – objection to grant of civil legal services
Where a supplier wishes to raise an objection to the grant of legal aid or to provide the Agency with copies of pertinent third party correspondence, these should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Such objections and correspondence are welcomed and considered carefully by the Agency on receipt.
Non Molestation proceedings
Despite a previous key message in March 2020 the Agency continue to receive applications for Non Molestation Orders which do not clearly state how the parties are associated for the purposes of the legislation. It is imperative that the application sets out clearly how the parties are associated. We cannot infer from the use of the word “partner” that the parties live or lived together so this must be set out explicitly on the application. Failure to provide this clarity will require us to issue a query (which may render any Representation Lower Emergency Notification void) and will delay adjudication which will impact on the date of the certificate.
Requests for payment in taxed cases
The Agency has recently received a number of incomplete requests for payment for cases where costs have been taxed. Missing information included a copy of the taxed certificate or copies of the assessed bill of costs. There were also instances of no actual fee lines being entered nor barristers being attached to the case. Taxed cases are normally of significant value and these simple errors have delayed the receipt of monies.
Practitioners are reminded that LSA Circular 08/2020 provides guidance on how to submit payment requests for taxed cases.
Payment of third party invoices for expert reports
The current practice of requiring a signed invoice from a third party for reports required to progress a case has changed.
With the introduction of LAMS, the Agency is now able to evidence who uploaded documentation in support of a request for payment. This will include the uploading of invoices for payment to a third party for expert reports including medical, physiological, engineering or other reports required to support a case. With the solicitor asserting that all information supplied is valid and accurate the Agency now no longer requires the invoice to be physically signed as evidence the work has been completed and paid.
The invoice must continue to provide a breakdown of the time taken to generate the report and must be broken down into interviews, surveys, research and report writing times in line with the authority. Where the invoice simply indicates a total of hours spent and the total cost, this will be queried and the whole request for payment will be returned to the solicitor to supply the required information.
Applicants in receipt of Universal Credit
The Agency verify an applicant’s benefit entitlement using the DWP Searchlight system. However, where an applicant has been approved to receive Universal Credit but has not yet received the first payment, the DWP Searchlight system does not confirm the eligibility until after the first payment is made.
Practitioners are asked to confirm with their clients whether their benefit is currently in payment and if so complete the financial eligibility section on LAMS in the usual way. A check will be carried out by the Agency and if we are able to verify the entitlement on DWP Searchlight we will proceed to process the request.
If no payments have as yet been made but the client has been approved for Universal Credit, the supplier should still indicate in the relevant section of LAMS that the client is on Universal Credit but must also upload evidence of the entitlement, as a supporting document, named appropriately using the titles in the drop down menu. We will accept a letter from DfC or screenshots from the Universal Credit Journal App provided it shows clearly the name of the applicant and confirms that they have been accepted as eligible for the benefit and indicates the date on which the payment will be made.
If we are unable to validate the entitlement either via DWP Searchlight (for ongoing claims) or via the supporting documents (for new claims) the request will be withdrawn.
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