Payback time?
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Marc Bloomfield
At last, new guidance has been published with revised costs assessments that account for having to use CCMS.
As all civil and family legal aid lawyers will know, the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA’s) client and costs management system (CCMS) is an online platform used to make applications and manage funding for legal proceedings under legal aid certificates. Sadly, it is based on a flawed design concept because too much of the development budget was spent before they asked practitioners how it would actually be used. It was also put on an inherently unstable platform, which meant that it kept crashing and causing stress and inconvenience for everyone. There is not enough money to scrap the whole thing and start again, so practitioners, clients and LAA staff just have to put up with it.
Bizarrely, it generally takes longer to use the online system than it did to deal with the paper forms it replaced. To add insult to injury, until a few weeks ago, the only way to claim additional fees due to CCMS was to cost the extra time and submit a claim through the LAA’s complaints and compensation scheme.
But CCMS is not all doom and gloom – feedback from practitioners suggests that bills get paid more quickly than they used to be. Slowly and painfully, CCMS has been made more stable and practitioners have discovered the workarounds that make it bearable. Some younger practitioners – digital natives who have no experience of the carefree days of paper – simply cannot imagine anything else and expect online systems for everything anyway.
However, the burning issue of costs has remained unresolved while Resolution and the Association of Costs Lawyers took the lead in engaging the LAA in a review of the Costs assessment guidance. Although there are still areas of disagreement, and issues that remain unresolved (such as waiting times for interpreters and travel), at last the guidance has been updated to reflect processing times when using CCMS.
The LAA has confirmed that the new guidance is clarification of the existing position rather than substantive change. As such, these principles apply to all assessments that take place after the revised guidance was issued on 3 September 2018.
New guideline times are shown below with the previous guidelines they replace, but don’t forget that additional time may be justified on a case-by-case basis. It is worth noting how much longer they are in every case where they replace previous guidance. There are also new allowances for processes introduced by CCMS that simply didn’t exist before. Paragraph numbers are given from the latest Costs assessment guidance for ease of reference.
Where a provider sends a message on CCMS (and, by implication, receives where allowable), this is treated as equivalent to sending an email or letter to the LAA and may be claimed as such (para 2.31).
Non-merits-tested application (previous – no specific time) new guideline: 30 minutes (para 2.61).
Merits-tested application (previous – no specific time) new guideline: 48 minutes (para 2.61).
The guidance goes on to say that for CCMS claims additional time may be claimed for inputting the means information into CCMS. Where this is done in the client’s presence, it will form part of the costs of the attendance on the client. Where the information is inputted into CCMS by the fee earner without the client being present, 30 minutes will generally be considered reasonable (para 2.61).
For allocation of costs to counsel, 12–18 minutes will usually be considered reasonable (para 2.63).
Amendments (previous – six minutes) new guideline – 24–30 minutes (para 2.63).
Disbursement POA (previous – six minutes) new guideline – 12 minutes (para 2.63).
Profit costs POA (previous – six minutes) new guideline – 12 minutes (para 2.63).
CCMS outcome codes with no costs recovery/statutory charge (previous – N/A) new guideline – 12 minutes (para 2.63).
CCMS outcome codes with costs recovery/statutory charge (previous – 12–18 minutes) new guideline – 24 minutes (para 2.63).
Hourly rate bill claims (previous – 30–60 minutes up to £2,500; more than 60 minutes over £2,500) new guideline – 24–30 minutes per 10 items (para 2.63).
Court assessed bills with FAS (previous – 12–18 minutes) new guideline – 54–60 minutes (para 2.63).
Court assessed bills without FAS (previous – 12–18 minutes) new guideline – 30–36 minutes (para 2.63).

About the author(s)

Description: Vicky Ling - author
Vicky Ling is a consultant specialising in legal aid practice and a founder member of the Law Consultancy Network.