Amended Costs Assessment Guidance: Resolution’s response to the Legal Aid Agency
Our response has been prepared by Resolution’s Legal Aid Committee.
Comments on specific paragraphs
Our comments relate to the paragraph numbers in the Costs Assessment Guidance (CAG) for use with the 2018 Standard Civil Contract. The comments on paragraphs 2.32, 2.61 to 2.63, 3.23 and
3.31 apply equally to the paragraphs with the same numbers in the CAG for use with the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Contracts.
1.16 This imposes a duty to report and refers to Regulation 40 of the Procedure Regulations. It would be helpful to have the full text of the regulation or the list of circumstances set out in
1.17 If a provider fails to report significant changes in a case or client’s circumstances claims may be disallowed. Providers may question what is ‘significant’- significant is subjective – so
further guidance on what this means may be helpful.
2.13 This appears to be blank so the rest of the paragraph numbering my need to be checked.
2.32 Where a provider responds to a notification on CCMS this is treated as equivalent to responding to an e-mail or letter from the LAA and may be claimed as such. We consider that providers should also be able to claim for messages sent to the LAA via CCMS and for reporting outcomes etc. as required as part of the billing process.
2.61 We query whether this suggests that the basic allowance for submitting applications on CCMS will also be 30 minutes. Most practitioners report that it takes longer than this. We seek for the guidance to be very clear that the time it has taken can be claimed for the completion of any and all application forms and all processes on CCMS, including for high cost cases. This should also include the time taken to upload attachments. Time must also be allowed for allocating costs to counsel.
2.62 As in 2.6.1 above, no specific time guidance for time taken to use CCMS is given. Again, does this suggest that the LAA expects the traditional 12-18 minutes to continue? This is insufficient and does not reflect the real, reasonable time taken.
2.63 Whilst it is welcome that a reasonable claim for time may be made where providers are required to sit with some clients to input eligibility information, it doesn’t help in the situation where CCMS is being completed when the client isn’t present, which is not always feasible/or a good use of the client’s time. We would ask that further consideration be given to allowing claiming time for this.
3.23 We think this paragraph should cross reference paragraph 3.31.
3.31 We welcome the acknowledgement at the end of this paragraph that under the FPR 2010 a party is required to attend all hearings of which they have notice unless directed otherwise. However, to avoid any ambiguity, the CAG should make it clear that claims for the travel costs of clients who are parties to proceedings governed by the FPR will not be challenged in principle i.e. that providers will no longer be asked to justify why they paid for such clients to attend court for any hearing.
5.57 The second bracket seems to be in the wrong place.
2.4 The word ‘contract’ in the second line should read ‘contact’.
Other more general comments
1. It is not clear how it is intended to apply the changes in the CAG for use with the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Contracts. The updated CAG states that it applies from 1 April 2013. In practice, will it apply only to bills submitted after the date the new version comes into effect?
Resolution members will have been unable to claim the new items, e.g. some extra time in respect of CCMS, which they will have incurred since CCMS became mandatory. Would firms be able to make additional claims in respect of cases which have been closed and claimed? Or would the LAA consider making an ex gratia payment to all firms?
2. Regarding the changes to both sets of guidance about claiming reasonable time for tasks via CCMS, there appears to be no detailed guidance in relation to CCMS issues (really only references to CCMS in paragraphs about claiming for form filling), which is disappointing for providers. Our members and other providers should be properly remunerated for all that they now have to do on CCMS to complete/submit applications and manage a legal aid certificate. The process takes more time than completing paper applications used to. There are a number of additional tasks. When providers have appealed costs assessments to date, they have been told that the guidance does not provide for CCMS work to be remunerated.
We are very clear that this must be repaired in this new guidance. Our comments about costs for working on CCMS should apply equally to the CAG for use with the 2018 Contract and that for use with existing contracts.
3. The issue of incorporating costs assessment principles into the guidance for use with the 2018 Contract seems to be dealt with in a very reasonable way.