Beaten To It II


The Legal Aid Practitioners Group today condemned the significant commercial risks placed on providers by the draft Specification to the Unified Contract. The Specification, published by the LSC in draft form on 1st March, is due to be implemented in October 2007, six months after the new Standard Terms.
Director Richard Miller said, “The Specification prohibits suppliers from undertaking the management of caseloads necessary to operate in a fixed fee environment, by imposing on solicitors a ‘cab-rank rule’, under which they will be required to take on every case that comes through the door if they have current capacity.”
“The LSC is also reserving the right to cut the Standard or Graduated Fees during the short life of this contract if the average amount of work reported by the profession in any category decreases by more than 10%. So in the unlikely event that firms can achieve savings as the LSC wants to encourage, their reward will be to have the fees cut again.”
He continued, “We are now told that, contrary to what is said in the ‘Way Ahead’, disbursements for travel costs will not be claimable on top of the Standard or Graduated Fee for controlled work. This represents a further, wholly unexpected, cut in already inadequate rates.
“On top of all of this, the dreaded Contract Compliance Audits are back with a vengeance, complete with extrapolation of results to all of a firm’s non-standard claims and recoupment of costs previously paid. CCAs did huge damage to firms’ cashflow when the LSC recouped hundreds of thousands of pounds legitimately claimed by firms, after inadequately qualified and poorly trained LSC staff carried out incompetent audits. The exercise single-handedly destroyed a previously quite reasonable relationship between the LSC and the profession. Last year, the LSC
indicated that CCAs were being phased out in favour of peer review and File Assessment – Value for Money. We thought we had the LSC’s agreement to treat issues arising on such assessments as a contract management issue. Apparently not.”

Miller concluded, “As if the uncertainties of the Standard Terms were not enough, the additional commercial risks placed on practitioners by this Specification are quite extraordinary. They go well beyond what any private business in any other sphere of Government activity would be expected to tolerate. We will be seeking substantial changes to the draft Specification in the coming weeks to try to ensure that firms have a viable commercial basis on which to operate.”

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