The LSA has issued the key messages for legal aid suppliers for January 2021.
Application request incorrect nature and matter
Solicitors are reminded as per the January 2020 addendum key messages that it is imperative that the correct nature/matter is selected from the dropdown list when submitting an application request on LAMS. This is to ensure that both solicitor and counsel can select and be paid the correct fees. Once the application request is submitted to LSA, staff or suppliers cannot amend the nature and matter.
Any application requests submitted using the incorrect nature/matter will have a message sent against the request advising the supplier that the application request will be withdrawn and subsequently closed on the basis of incorrect nature/matter. The supplier must submit a new application request. Queries may be raised by the Financial Eligibility Unit at the financial assessment stage on other matters but this will not prohibit an application from being withdrawn at the adjudication stage.
If you are in possession of a certificate for legal aid and you are unable to select the appropriate expenses you require to complete your payment request, you should contact LSANI on 028 9040 8888, advising of this so as the correct fees can be paid.
Exceptionality - supporting documents
The Agency has identified an increasing trend in practitioners taking photographs of supporting documents and uploading these to LAMs in support of their applications for exceptionality. The Agency is unable to accept documents uploaded in this manner. Practitioners are advised that documents must be uploaded in PDF format. The Agency recognises that many practitioners are currently working from home but advises that appropriate arrangements should be put in place to ensure documents are being submitted in their correct format.
There are various free apps which can be downloaded on electronic devices (i.e. Adobe scan, Mobile Scanner) to assist with this in the absence of access to appropriate office equipment.
The onus for this is on the practitioner and photographs of documentary evidence will no longer be accepted by the Agency.
Telephone interpreting- update from service provider
Due to the increasing demand for telephone interpreting services, ‘The Big Word’ have introduced automated three way calls. The caller will no longer have to wait for the call centre (i.e. no need to speak to a member of The Big Word team) and will be able to invite a third party into the call. Please note this service would not be available for a rare language.
Please see a snapshot image below of the new guide ‘TI Quick Guide - Multiparty 2001’, for multi-party conference calls for your information and ease of reference.
The full printable poster is available alongside this key message, under the key messages area on the LSANI website.
Queries raised in relation to financial eligibility
Practitioners are reminded that they are required to upload all necessary financial proofs to establish their client’s financial eligibility for legal aid at application stage. Where documentation is missing, or further details are required, the Financial Eligibility Unit will issue a query setting out clearly what further documentation or information is required in order to complete the means assessment.
Increasingly, queries are either not being responded to within a reasonable timescale or are only being partially responded to and documentation/information remains outstanding which prevents the application being assessed.
In line with Agency policy, detailed in May 2020 key messages and LSA Circular 11/2020, if queries are not responded to within 7 days for emergency applications and 21 days for non-emergency applications or if partial or incomplete responses are received, the application will be withdrawn and closed and a fresh application will be required to progress the matter.
Practitioners are asked to re-familiarise themselves with the guidance which is available on the Agency’s website, including comprehensive guidance on the completion of the financial eligibility aspects of Representation Higher applications. The Agency is developing further guidance in relation to the completion of the financial eligibility aspects of Advice and Assistance and Representation Lower, which will be published in due course.
Reasons for rejection of payment – civil rep lower
The Agency continues to work towards reducing the volume of requests for payment that need to be returned to practitioners, seeking additional information or where they are materially incorrect and need to be rejected.
A snapshot of the common causes of rejected payment requests from August 2020 to end of January 2021 for Rep Lower cases is set out below (click the arrows on the image to enlarge):
The snapshot also contains figures for requests rejected without a specified reason. The Agency is committed to ensuring that practitioners are aware of the reasons for the rejection of a request and have taken remedial steps to ensure processing staff include those details.
Practitioners are encouraged to confirm the details for each request for payment prior to submission. Where the Agency needs to message or raise a query with a practitioner, seeking additional information, this could potentially delay the time taken to fully assess and authorise payment.
Guidance notes on submitting a payment request can be found in the LAMS Supplier Manual - Section 23.
Date entry on expense items
Practitioners are reminded that when requesting payments the date entry of the expense item should relate to the date the work was undertaken i.e. date of court appearance or date of receipt/invoice as applicable and not the date the payment request is submitted.
Failure to input the correct date or dates may result in a delay in processing the request.
Itemised payment and authority requests
When submitting requests on LAMS, practitioners are required to provide full details and detail each individual expense line with the exception of the Expert Witness Pilot authorities were you should refer to the guidance; when submitting payment requests in taxed cases, see LSA Circular 08/2020 and when submitting payment requests in Exceptional Funding cases were you should refer to the guidance. Practitioners should not submit an individual line which encompasses all expenses and upload the breakdown as a supporting document.
From 1 March 2021, if a request is received that does not detail each expense in an individual fee line, the request will be queried back to you for you to input each expense line into the request.
Failure to detail each expense slows processing turnaround times as the information is not readily available to the assessor or calculated on the LAMS screen.
Fees adjustment and recoupment of overpayments
Guidance has published in recent months to inform practitioners of the Agency policy and administrative arrangements for fees adjustments and the repayment of overpayment of fees. The Fees Adjustments and Recoupments policy and the procedures can be found in the guidance section of the Agency website.
In particular, the Agency is aware of overpayments identified from the work completed by The Standard Assurance Unit (SAU) Department for Communities. Suppliers are advised that the Agency is now proceeding to rectify the payments and commence recovery action in accordance with the policy. For those suppliers where an overpayment has been identified, a letter will issue providing details of the identified overpayment.
The Agency is experiencing an unnecessary administrative burden in a number of EF cases with regards to incorrect submissions on LAMS and duplicate requests being submitted. Practitioners are reminded of detailed guidance LSANI - Guidelines on Submitting Requests for Civil Exceptional Funding - V1 September 2020, which is located in the guidance section of the website, for solicitor and counsel regarding EF processing, which clearly details what LAMS requests are to be made, by whom and the format for same. Practitioners are reminded to familiarise themselves with this guidance in the first instance.
What you might have missed
Please note that the LSANI have published the following on the Agency’s website:
- New circular ‘LSA 01-21 - Introduction of a general authority pilot for the use of psychiatrists and psychologists as expert witnesses in public law Children Order cases in the Family Proceedings court’ which can be located in the ‘2021 circulars’ area of the website.
- A new ‘General Authority Pilot for the use of psychiatrists and psychologists as expert witnesses in public law Children Order cases in the Family Proceedings court’ which can be located in the ‘Legal aid legislation and guidance’ page of the website.
- A new specific ‘LAMS Supplier manual – General Authority Pilot for the use of psychiatrists and psychologists as expert witnesses in public law Children Order cases in the Family Proceedings court’ which can be located on the ‘LAMS guidance’ area of the website.
- New Circular 'LSA 02-21 - Implementation of new functionality in LAMS' - located under the 2021 circulars area of the website.
- ‘Operational Performance – November 2020’ & ‘Operational Performance – December 2020’– can be viewed under the ‘Operational Performance for LAMS’ area within the ‘Useful information for legal aid suppliers’ page.
- Consultation– LSANI consultation on the Publication of Annual Payments to Suppliers of Legal Aid.