LAA urged to delay compulsory civil billing system

Topics: Civil justice,Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice

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  • Catherine Little

The Legal Aid Agency has been urged to delay making a digital legal aid billing system compulsory amid concerns over its performance and reliability.

The agency’s client and cost management system (CCMS), which is used to submit civil legal aid applications, will become mandatory for all civil case types from 1 April. The system became mandatory for special Children Act applications from 1 February.

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Earlier this month, the Ministry of Justice was forced to apologise after some solicitors were unable to access the system.

In a letter sent yesterday to Catherine Little (pictured), director of finance and digital at the agency, family law organisation Resolution said that recent events demonstrate that the CCMS is not ready for compulsory usage. The move to compulsory usage for special Children Act cases was 'hasty at best, and restricts people’s access to justice at worst'.

A spokesperson for the agency told the Gazette yesterday evening: 'We are aware that some users are having issues using the online portal. The portal acts as a secure gateway to all legal aid systems, including the CCMS. CCMS is otherwise functioning as intended.

'We are urgently working to fix the portal and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. We have contacted legal aid providers directly to offer assistance.’

Resolution’s letter states that problems around speed and reliability 'persist and are getting worse’.

Its latest survey, which attracted nearly 600 responses, found that seven in 10 respondents ‘regularly’ experienced problems with the system.

Two-thirds said they were ‘often thrown out of the system’ during the process of submitting an application.

Resolution said members wanted CCMS to work, highlighting that seven in 10 practitioners welcomed the concept of electronic working.

But it said members from various organisations, committed to working with the agency to pilot the system and help iron out ‘initial’ teething problems, ‘have been so worn down by persistent and repeated problems with the system, they have been transformed from being potentially the system’s biggest advocates into becoming some of CCMS’s most vocal critics’.

Earlier this year the Association of Costs Lawyers said its concerns about the system’s billing functionality had still not been addressed ‘and we fear they will not be’.

A spokesperson for the agency said today: 'The current plan is to make all remaining civil legal aid work mandatory on CCMS on 1 April, but we are keeping the situation under review in light of the portal.'

Readers' comments (4)

  • At present, it is far from functioning properly and I see that 70% of those questioned by Resolution are regularly experiencing problems.

    By way of example, a colleague completed an application yesterday and was logged out twice during the application. On logging back in for a third time, he used the “fast forward” button within CCMS to get back to where he was working only for the system to hang for several minutes. A system error message was then displayed. He logged back in and upon trying to “submit” the application was again logged out. The application was successfully submitted after 4 errors in the same application. If, as the LAA claim in the article, it is “functioning as intended”, then they probably need to change their expectations somewhat to something a little more reasonable and realistic.

    Presently, we have had no days with a properly working system in the run up to the mandatory date. Five further working days is wholly insufficient.

    I agree entirely with Resolution and invite the LAA to delay mandatory use until we have had a longer run-in period with a functional system. Alternatively, we can predict LAA phone meltdown commencing 9.00am on 1 April 2016.

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  • The system is not fit for purpose. There should be no question of the system becoming compulsory until it has performed without 'glitches' for at least 3 months. I doubt very much that it is only 'some users' that have been unable to access the system, or that have spent hours just trying to submit a Legal Aid application. Furthermore, the right to submit paper/email applications should be retained for any instances of the system being down, or for that matter individual firms having problems with their own internet. Or are we supposed to tell our clients with very urgent problems to come back tomorrow to check if we might have any better luck getting through the portal?

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  • The ccms system is not effective. We are fed up with being told we must use it . It is time consuming and fraustratingly slow. To be honest it is a completely useless system which has not been thought out well at all. It is lenthy and repetitive for no reason. It barely works and is not time or cost effective as intended. Who develops these things?it is money which could have been spent on clients rather than cuts which are imposed? It certainly is not ready go live in April if at all!

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  • I have been arguing with the LAA ever since the system was introduced that it is not fit for purpose. In addition to the technical problems which have plagued the system throughout the time it has been in operaton, it is clear that when it was designed it was done so with a view to it benefiting the LAA, with the needs and practices of the suppliers being secondary. Furthermore it was designed with the technology of the time in mind, but technology has moved on since then. To be told, as I have been, that there will never be any improvement in the speed that it takes to access the portal and navigate the system is unacceptable to those of us whose time is money, particularly when the amount paid for that time by the LAA is a pittance!

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