Online system for civil legal aid applications may have improved but much remains to be done
The client and cost management system (CCMS) is the IT system that the Legal Aid Agency has introduced to allow civil and family legal aid work to be processed online. ‘Great,’ you would think. ‘Let’s get rid of all the paperwork and use a much better case management system.’
CCMS, though, is not a case management system. It is a system designed to facilitate a lot of functions for the LAA but not devised in a way that practitioners may have expected.
Following its autumn 2012 roll-out in its pilot form to practices in the North East, their reaction, within a very short time, was that the system was simply not good enough. Fast forward to now and the system is mandatory for those making special Children Act applications and will become compulsory for all other civil applications from 1 April 2016.
There is no doubt that the system has improved and CCMS is still being overhauled now – several functions are being added that will make it much quicker to use. For example, the number of questions to be answered will reduce and navigation between sections will improve; several practices are piloting this beta version. When improvements are tested and there is positive feedback, these will be rolled out to everyone. The merits section has been rolled out with these improvements and at the time of writing, it is hoped that the improved means function will be up and running by the end of February. Another improvement in the offing is that it will be possible to submit documents when the original application is made rather than waiting for an email from the LAA inviting them to be submitted afterwards.
The LAA is turning CCMS applications around more quickly than those on paper.
At a meeting with representative bodies in February 2016, the LAA said that, as of 31 January 2016, approximately 80,000 cases had been submitted on CCMS, with a record 1,564 submitted in one week in January. The LAA had consecutive weeks of between 65 per cent and 73 per cent of all new applications on CCMS. Some 1,222 civil providers (75 per cent) have now issued applications, with over 85 per cent of ‘active’ providers having used CCMS. It is turning CCMS applications around more quickly than those on paper.1At this meeting, the LAA also mentioned that, as a result of its monitoring of CCMS, it has identified a worrying number of practices that appear not to be carrying out any certificated work. The representative bodies, including the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, are seeking more information, as the list of contract holders is clearly not the same as the list of those actually carrying out legal aid certificated work. There may be reasons (eg a practice is only carrying out non-certificated work), but answers are needed.
Resolution carried out a survey toward the end of 2015 (before the latest improvements had been rolled out) and 65 per cent of respondents reported that they regularly experience problems using CCMS. The Legal Aid Practitioners Group receives feedback that practitioners frequently cannot access the system and that the ‘system busy’ message is causing people to despair.
The LAA stresses that if practitioners report problems stating their user name and the date and time of the problem, it can find out what is going wrong. Busy practitioners understandably feel that if the LAA has had endless notifications of a problem, they should not have to keep reporting it; however, at the moment that may be the best way to make progress. The LAA can also tap into all applications live, so it can track the whole history of a case, which can be useful if practitioners are raising issues.
There is very limited time left for the LAA to roll out better functionality and sort out some basic problems. The profession and the representative bodies have worked hard to turn CCMS into a functioning system – as, indeed, has the latest team at the LAA – but it must still improve before it becomes mandatory. ■