It’s time to think about your organisation’s bid for the 2018 civil and family legal aid contracts.
The tender process for civil and family legal aid contracts starting in April 2018 was, at the time of writing, due to begin next month, May 2017 (‘Civil news: our approach to civil legal aid work from 2018
’, Legal Aid Agency (LAA) news release, 20 January 2017, updated by a further announcement on 17 March 2017).1Headline intentions documents are available on the GOV.UK website.
All organisations wanting to do legal aid work from April 2018 will need to submit bids, whether they currently hold a contract or want to start delivering legal aid services for the first time.
•Selection questionnaire (SQ) and invitations to tender (ITTs) open: May 2017.
•Verification process: January–March 2018.
•Contract starts: 1 April 2018.
If you are thinking of starting a new practice at the same time as a new legal aid contract, you will be able to do so, but factor in time for authorisation by your chosen professional regulator (Solicitors Regulation Authority or Bar Standards Board). You will also need to prepare documentation and apply for the Specialist Quality Mark (you can only apply for Lexcel if your practice has been operating Lexcel procedures for at least three months).
The LAA will operate a one-stage process. It stresses that the tender will simply test organisations’ ability to meet minimum tender requirements and all organisations that can do so will be awarded contracts (except for Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes (HPCDS) and telephone contracts). However, organisations seeking higher numbers of matter starts may need advanced panel accreditation, so if you are a volume provider, or want to scale up, you should start thinking about this now. Family practitioners will be able to apply for licensed work-only contracts if they wish.
The LAA says that the new contracts are likely to be more flexible in a number of ways:
•allowing remote working arrangements such as delivery of advice by email, telephone or video conferencing where appropriate;
•the ability to self-grant up to an additional 50 per cent of matter starts over those awarded;
•the ability to reallocate up to 50 per cent of matter starts between your own offices (subject to LAA consent); and
•all organisations will receive five miscellaneous matter starts in addition to their category-specific matter starts.
Likely changes you may need to plan for
•Stricter definition of ‘employ’ in relation to supervisors.
•Changes to the mental health supervisor standard.
•Limits to representation by counsel/agents in mental health.
•New mental health capacity (welfare) accreditation will become mandatory for that work when appropriate.
•The immigration and asylum contract will reflect changes to the Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme.
•Immigration and asylum bidders in higher lot sizes will also be able to bid for immigration removal centre work.
Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes
The government has recently ended its consultation on whether to increase the size of the schemes. The LAA is considering an element of price competition in relation to HPCDS work, although it is difficult to see how economies of scale could be achieved by simply grouping courts over wider geographical areas.
Tips for successful bids
•Create a bid team of at least two people.
Go through the Information for Applicants and work out what information you may need to gather before completing the response on the Bravo portal
. In larger organisations, you may need to involve several people/departments.
•Submit questions on any point where you are not clear about what the LAA wants.
•Check the FAQs (and answers) as they will often deal with a point that concerns you.
•Get someone who is not in the bid team to read the tender and your proposed responses – they are more likely to see any errors and raise potential queries.
•Get someone to sit with you when you submit your response via the portal and carefully go through every answer together.
•Submit your response after the final FAQs have been published but comfortably before the closing date and time.