Legal aid billing system postponed again
The Legal Aid Agency has once again postponed the compulsory use of its new digital legal aid billing system for all civil cases.
The agency introduced the client and cost management system (CCMS) as an online means of submitting civil legal aid applications. It was piloted in the north-east two year ago.
It was scheduled to become mandatory in October. In June, the agency announced that CCMS users would not be required to use the system for all new casework until 1 February 2016.
However, the agency announced last week that the system will only be mandatory for Special Children Act (SCA) applications from 1 February.
‘Applications for all remaining civil case types will be mandatory from 1 April 2016,’ the announcement states. ‘While not mandatory, we expect firms to continue increasing use of the system across all case types.’
More than 65% of new civil applications are submitted via the system.
By extending the mandatory date, a spokesperson for the agency told the Gazette the ‘additional’ time ‘will help users become accustomed to system improvements we plan to deliver in January. We have considered feedback from users in making this decision’.
Earlier this year family group Resolution warned that the CCMS would not be fit for purpose if it was rolled out nationally in its current state.
Commenting on the latest development, Elspeth Thomson (pictured), who leads the group’s work on legal aid, said: ‘Many of our members are still reporting significant problems with CCMS, but we have heard from those working in public children law that the system has been improved for this type of application, after significant lobbying from Resolution, the Association of Lawyers for Children and many others.’
Thomson said the group was ‘pleased’ that the agency ‘has taken the sensible decision’ to only make public children law applications mandatory from February.
‘Delaying the mandatory start date for the rest of the legal aid applications will hopefully give the LAA time to rectify the serious issues that still remain in the system,’ she said.
‘We urge any family legal aid practitioners currently using the CCMS to contact us so we can continue to feed back a coordinated response from the profession to the LAA.’
The agency’s announcement states that there will be ‘no change’ to the revised date.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: ‘We have been urging the Legal Aid Agency not to make the client and costs management system mandatory until it has been fully tested and the issues of slowness and poor functionality, identified during the pilot, fully addressed.
'We therefore welcome the fact that the LAA has listened to our concerns and has allowed a further two months for solicitors to get used to the system and to gauge and evaluate how the changes will affect more complex cases.’