With the contract starting imminently, it’s important to make sure you know what’s in it.
The legal aid 2018 Standard Civil Contract
will be starting in September. The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has tried to bring the requirements into line with the 2017 Crime Contract, and there are other changes too. This article highlights some key elements of the new contract, but it is important to set some time aside to read it in full! The documents you’ll need to familiarise yourself with are:
•Contract for Signature, Key Information, Tables and Annexes – sent out by the LAA with contract offers.
•Office Schedule – sent out by the LAA with contract offers.
2018 Standard Civil Contract Standard Terms, General Specification and Category Specific Rules – download from the LAA’s website.
Don’t forget to notify the LAA of any changes to your organisation during the lifetime of the contract. For example, if in private practice, new directors/members will need to provide indemnities (Standard Terms 4.6). Also, if any of your answers to questions in a tender document should change in relation to a suitability question, you must notify the LAA, which can review whether you are still suitable to hold a contract (Standard Terms 2.1). If you change legal entity or merge, the LAA may novate the contract to the new entity (Standard Terms clause 22).
A new requirement has been introduced that requires the LAA to make payment within 30 days of determination of a valid and undisputed claim.
A new requirement has been introduced, due to Public Contracts Regulations 2015 SI No 102 reg 113, that requires the LAA to make payment within 30 days of determination of a valid and undisputed claim (Standard Terms 14.11), although it does not prevent the LAA from subsequently recouping a payment on assessment. Similarly, you have to pay sub-contractors within 30 days (Standard Terms 3.3(b)(i)).
As the name implies, this contains the detailed rules that apply to the way work is carried out on a day-to-day basis. Sections 1–6 are general and apply to all. Subsequent sections are category specific. Where the two conflict, the latter take precedence (Specification para 1.2).
Under the new contract, you can self-grant up to an additional 50 per cent of matter starts per year, but you must notify your contract manager first (Specification para 1.21). You can apply to the LAA for further matter starts if you need to (Specification para 1.23). If you are granted additional matter starts, they will be reflected in your allocation in the next schedule (Specification para 1.24).
Note that you can use up to 25 per cent of matter starts using remote methods of communication, without ever seeing the client (Specification para 3.17). You will need to make an appropriate ID check if you advise a client by remote means (Specification para 3.18).
In most categories of law, you need at least one full-time equivalent (FTE) supervisor. Part-time equivalent supervisors are only acceptable in the following categories of law: welfare benefits; clinical negligence; claims against public authorities; and public law (see the category specific sections of the Specification). For this purpose, a FTE means the equivalent of one individual working five days a week and seven hours on each such day (excluding breaks) (Specification para 2.10(a)). A FTE supervisor can cover up to four FTE members of staff and two offices (which may be for two different providers) (Specification para 2.26).
Controversially, the LAA has changed its interpretation of Specification para 2.10(a), although only one word was changed in the text, making it difficult to spot: ‘have at least one full time (or full time equivalent) supervisor working in that category’ (emphasis added). The change only became clear from a LAA response in a FAQ:
Q.3.3 If one person meets the standards to be a supervisor on more than one category of law, can they be considered to be a full time equivalent supervisor on those two categories?
This has caused problems for some organisations, particularly in rural areas, as there is a shortage of people who meet the supervisor requirements. It also increases the cost of delivering legal aid services.