The Legal Aid Agency has announced improvements to its new digital legal aid billing system following heavy criticism from lawyers.

The agency introduced the client cost and management system (CCMS) as an online means of submitting civil legal aid applications. It was piloted in the north-east two years ago and will become mandatory nationally in October.

The Association of Costs Lawyers said last month 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 said at its conference that the CCMS would not be ‘fit for purpose’ if it was rolled out nationally in its current state.

Today the LAA said a forward button will be available from 1 June that allows users to move forward through the means and merits interviews section to the last question answered without clicking ‘next’.

The agency said it is working with software vendors involved in the pilot to allow the bulk uploading of bills. 

Additional improvements to be introduced over the summer include allowing users to allocate costs to advocates and do means reassessments while other amendments are in progress and changes to the PDF copy of the bill to make it easier to review them.

The LAA is also investigating a mobile version of the CCMS ’which will allow users to create part of the application away from the office’.

The agency said it was ‘committed to supporting’ practitioners as they gained experience using the CCMS.

Additional support includes ‘recorded master classes’, which will be available later this month, and question-and-answer sessions.

The LAA said more than 50% of new applications were being submitted on the CCMS and more than 2,000 bills are being processed on a weekly basis.