The Legal Aid Agency has postponed the compulsory use of its new digital legal aid billing system following complaints from practitioners.
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 years ago and had been scheduled to become mandatory this October.
However, the agency has now announced that CCMS users will not be required to use the system for all new casework until 1 February 2016.
The agency said the new date ‘follows discussions with representative bodies and feedback from those using the system who have asked for more time to prepare for the system [and] improvements to be embedded before mandation’.
Earlier this year the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) said the system could lead to payment delays that could affect the viability of firms operating with little or no contingency unless ‘underlying issues’ were urgently fixed.
Family group Resolution warned that the CCMS would not be ‘fit for purpose’ if it was rolled out nationally in its current state.
The Law Society’s head of legal aid, Richard Miller (pictured), told the Gazette Chancery Lane had been ‘very concerned’ about the state of the CCMS and had been making ‘strong representations’ to the agency on behalf of members.
He said: ‘We are pleased that the LAA has listened and acted on our concerns. If the promised enhancements work as we have been told, they should address many of the problems members have been experiencing.
‘We will monitor progress very carefully to check whether the changes deliver the expected benefits before the new date for mandatory use.’
Paul Seddon, chair of the ACL’s legal aid group, said the six improvements the agency has committed to was a ‘good start’, but warned: ’There is a long way to go in comparatively very little time to make the many more changes needed so that this system is fit for use.’
The agency recently announced a number of improvements to the system and is also investigating a mobile version of the CCMS.