The LSA has issued the key messages for legal aid suppliers for July 2022.
Exceptional preparation - phased grants
Suppliers are asked to note that where Exceptional Preparation (EP) has been granted and it is to be rolled out on a phased basis, suppliers must ensure they make a request for each phase of grant, by way of authority request on LAMS, as the case progresses and that such authority requests are to be submitted in advance of undertaking any additional work which is covered by the subsequent phase. Preparatory work undertaken without certified EP cover for each relevant phase will not be remunerated.
Identifying, reducing and measuring applicant error and fraud
As advised in LSA 04-21 - Applicant Fraud and Error – Practitioner Guidance testing commenced in April 2021 in relation to a monthly sample of cases drawn from January 2021 onwards. The Standard Assurance Unit in the Department of Communities acting on behalf of the Agency, contacted Assisted Persons by telephone to verify their financial eligibility, both from the date of their legal aid application and throughout the life of the legal aid certificate. This process looked at the cases once they were closed. At the end of the first year of testing, there were a large numbers of cases recorded as incorrect due to non-compliance/co-operation. Therefore, the Agency has reviewed the methodology and we have now moved to a Future Overpayment Prevention (FOP) approach. This means that potential future errors can be identified and addressed before the Legal Aid Fund has incurred undue costs which is particularly key in the current budget climate. The FOP process will gather information from applicants to assess the financial eligibility of the applicant at the application stage and through the life of a Legal Aid Certificate being in place. The Agency will be reviewing representation higher court cases in the first instance.
If your client is selected in the sample you should encourage them to co-operate, provide information requested and any change in circumstance, as non-co-operation will lead to the suspension of their certificate and could result in the certificate being revoked, leaving them exposed to the costs of their case.
If there is non-cooperation or non-disclosure of a change of financial circumstances which leads to a finding that the assisted party would not be eligible for legal aid, the Legal Aid Certificate will be suspended under Regulation 19 of the Civil Legal Services (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 and a letter before revocation will be issued to the applicant and their solicitor allowing seven days to make representations as to why in the circumstances a certificate should not be revoked.
It is essential that you remind your clients of their responsibilities in signing a declaration and applying for legal aid, including notifying the Agency of any change in financial circumstances which might affect their ongoing eligibility.
In addition the Agency has embedded a quality assurance system within the Financial Eligibility Unit (FEU) who are responsible for assessing the means of applicants. It will also conduct routine checking of continuing financial eligibility on certificates granted, with the aim of identifying any changes in eligibility at the earliest possible date and before cases conclude to protect the Fund and minimise the liability of the assisted person on revocation of a certificate where they would be liable to repay the full costs.
Following on from May 2022 key messages regarding the LAMS SMS Service, as there has been no increase in subscriptions, the Agency has decided to discontinue the SMS service.
The service will be terminated at the end of August and practitioners who are currently subscribed should take the necessary steps to unsubscribe from the service as detailed below.
Solicitors & other employees
From September 2022 the Agency will notify practitioners about planned outages using the LAMS broadcast message function only. A notice will also be placed on the LSA nidirect pages advising that LAMS is currently unavailable and the duration of the outage period.
In circumstances where there is an unplanned outage of LAMS, as access to the broadcast message function will not be available, the Agency will make the necessary arrangements to get a notice placed on the LSA nidirect pages advising that we are aware that LAMS is currently unavailable and the issue is being investigated, the contact centre will also be notified of the outage as will both membership bodies.
LAMS annual reregistration exercise
The annual LAMS reregistration exercise has now ended however we are yet to receive a number of supplier and business account reregistrations.
If you have not yet renewed your individual or business account then you will no longer be able to access LAMS.
Practitioners are encouraged to reregister their individual supplier accounts and if you are an Account Administrator for your firm (all Barristers are Account Administrators) the Agency would urge you to complete your Business renewal immediately.
The following links to guidance will give you all the information that you need to complete the reregistration process. Reregistration is straightforward and should not take long if you follow the process outlined in the guidance.
- Circular – ‘LSA 07-22 – LAMS Reregistration of Individual & business accounts’ located within the ‘Circulars 2022’ area;
- Guidance – ‘LAMS – Reregistration manual’ located within the ‘LAMS reregistration guidance’ page, in the ‘LAMS guidance’ area;
- Guidance – ‘LAMS – Supplier & business reregistration checklist’ also located within the ‘LAMS reregistration guidance’ page, in the ‘LAMS guidance’ area.
Should you have any queries on any matter related to your reregistration please email the LSANI Registration Scheme team at RegistrationScheme@lsani.gov.uk
What you might have missed
Please note that the Agency have published the following on the website during July:
- Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland - Business plan
- Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland - Annual reports and accounts
- Director of Legal Aid Casework annual reports
Notes to editors:
- Long updates MLAs on commitment to youth justice system 06 October 2022
- Long increases small claims court limit 03 October 2022
- Long launches public consultation on the minimum age of criminal responsibility 03 October 2022
- Apply for Halloween firework licences in good time – Justice Minister 03 October 2022