Legal aid billing issues ‘unresolved’

Topics: Legal aid and access to justice

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The government may be underestimating the severity of problems with its new digital legal aid billing system, solicitors have warned.

Last month the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) announced that its client and cost management system (CCMS) would become mandatory for all civil cases from 1 April. From 1 February it will be mandatory only for special Children Act applications.

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However, the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) said its concerns around the system’s billing functionality had still not been addressed ‘and we fear they will not be’.

Paul Seddon, chair of the ACL’s legal aid group, said only one minor issue of the 23 issues the association detailed in a report last year had been resolved.

Seddon said: ‘The LAA has made no commitment to resolve serious items at the top of the list, like problems with usability and performance that will make submitting a bill on CCMS both error-prone and uneconomical.’

The agency introduced the system as an online means of submitting civil legal aid applications. It was piloted in the north-east two years ago.

The system was scheduled to become mandatory in October last year. In June the agency announced CCMS users would not be required to use the system for all new casework until 1 February.

By extending the mandatory date to April, a spokesperson for the agency said the additional time would ‘help users become accustomed to system improvements we plan to deliver in January’.

The ACL welcomed the delay but Seddon said ‘for billing it only continues to be a stay of execution’.

‘Despite running years late, with budgets being revised upwards and further delays to the rollout of the system, the LAA still only seems to be fixing minor billing issues, not the significant ones of which it has been repeatedly advised,’ he added.

‘This leads us to conclude that either the LAA is not able to do so through lack of resources or that it fails to recognise the severity of the issues we have raised.’

Readers' comments (9)

  • There seems to be no real mystery as to why the LAA are continuously avoiding addressing the major concerns or issues surrounding this newly planned system.

    If it looks like a Duck, walks like a Duck and quacks like a Duck, IT'S A DUCK

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  • I am in in house coster with a small midlands firm. I used to love my job, until this woeful excuse of a computer system was introduced!

    I now spend most of my day waiting for the egg timer to allow me to continue to the next page of the bill. That is if it doesn't think I've pressed the back/forward button!

    Even without the performance issues the system is slow, cumbersome and time consuming. Whoever designed the billing section, had obviously never costed a family file!

    God help us all in February, as half the firms I speak to are still not using it!

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  • This was another ruse to disuade lawyers becoming involved in family legal aid claims.Our firm was one of the guinea pigs and it is a total and utter disaster.

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  • Just out of interest, an FOI in JANUARY 2014 (note the date) revealed that the CCMS system had already cost a staggering £56.4M.

    One can't imagine what the bill amounts to two years later. This monumental waste of money could instead have been helping real people with real legal problems who now have to go without as a result of the LASPO carpet bombing of legal aid.

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  • By Paul Hawkins:
    What are the odds that if CCMS ever gets to a fully usable condition, the MOJ/LAA will immediately and fundamentally change the whole costs structure? I suspect most bookies wouldn't take your money...

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  • Having used the billing system since its inception for family bills, the only issue i have had is speed which is greatly improved since the early days.

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  • Paul: I'm genuinely interested to hear from those who have had an overall good experience with CCMS Billing and have found ways of using the system well, because such users appear to be few.

    Have these been family fixed fee matters or have you input hourly rate matters also? The system works reletively well for fixed fee matters. Albeit the amount of screens you have to get through before you can even start inputting actual costs is unnecessarily cumbersome, and certainly (from feedback and in my experience) isn't as user friendly as most external software.

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  • The number of screens could be decreased i believe by putting all the preliminary questions on one screen. I have input hourly rate matters also and Court assessed bills. I prepare claims in house and have to say i think they take no longer than preparing claim forms. I must say that when i have prepared claims at weekends or evenings the system is a lot faster.

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  • Sorry, I've only just seen your reply. Do you use designated costs software to prepare your paper based claims? Have your hourly rate claims been of a substantial amount?

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