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.
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.’