LAG has learnt that only 252 out of over 400 applicants were successful in their bids for immigration and asylum contracts from the Legal Services Commission (LSC). Providers were told the results of the tender exercise this week. Many are also disappointed over the number of new cases, or to use the jargon new matter starts (NMS), they have been allocated. One London firm told LAG that it had been allocated less than half of the immigration cases and only 70 per cent of the asylum cases it had applied for. According to the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), which represents both solicitor firms and not for profit legal aid providers, some of them are facing closure due to not being allocated sufficient NMS to make their services viable.
The NMS had been allocated to geographical areas and providers had applied for blocks of them. LAG estimates that between 30-40 per cent of providers have had the number of NMS allocated to them reduced. The situation is particularly severe in London as LAG understands that the LSC, which administers the legal aid system for the government, received applications for over double the number of NMS available.
An LSC spokesman told LAG that the overall number of NMS for immigration and asylum cases had not been reduced, but that in most areas they had been 'oversubscribed' for the ones available. According to the LSC, 47,744 NMS for immigration cases and 48,761 NMS for asylum cases have been awarded in the tender round. It believes that there is no right of appeal against decisions on the number of NMS allocated and providers can only appeal against a decision not to grant them a contract. The LAPG, though, is advising its members to put in appeals if they disagree with the number of NMS allocated.
LAG believes the number of applicants for the available work must have played a part in the government’s decision not to help Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ). It represented over 10,000 immigration and asylum clients a year and had been forced to call in the receivers two weeks ago due to cash flow problems caused by the change over to fixed fees for cases. Despite raising over £76,000 in a few days in an effort to save the service, Caroline Slocock, RMJ's chief executive, was forced to admit defeat, saying, 'RMJ has received the most amazing support from supporters and we were overwhelmed and touched by the offers of financial help in response to our campaign. We would like to thank everyone who has tried to save RMJ and very much regret that it has not been possible.' Unfortunately it appears that RMJ will not be the last immigration provider to go under this year.