Legal aid practitioners' frustrations trying to log on to the government's digital billing system could become a thing of the past after the Legal Aid Agency revealed that another service will be introduced next year.
In its 2018-19 report and accounts, published yesterday, the agency said it will roll out an Apply for Legal Aid service 'which will reduce dependency' on the agency's client and cost management system (CCMS). The agency says it is also making improvements to the underlying CCMS service.
CCMS, which became mandatory in 2016, has been beset with problems.
Technical glitches in November resulted in a family solicitor having to inform domestic violence victims that they must attend court on their own. A report on the supply side of the immigration market last month said the additional unpaid time that providers spent dealing with CCMS, and the associated frustration and stress, was the 'single most significant problem for providers, and a real threat to survival for some who felt they were already "on the brink" because of fee cuts'.
In a section on IT services, the LAA's report states that the agency moved all of its applications to new hosting arrangements, the majority of which are now hosted in the cloud. 'This has significantly improved the security, resilience and supportability of the majority of our services. Following the move, we experienced some stability issues with our CCMS service. We have made a number of changes to the service to improve the stability and usability of CCMS and have improved proactive monitoring on the service to allow us to respond to incidents more quickly. We have also improved the recovery time of the service to minimise downtime when there are incidents,' the report states.
The agency says performance has improved for processing crime applications, and that it remained within target for processing crime and civil bills, and civil applications. All criminal applications were processed within two working days, exceeding a 90% target; 91% of civil applications were processed within 20 working days, exceeding an 80% target. Nearly all bills (99%) were paid within a month, exceeding a 90% target.
The agency reduced staff costs by £2.1m compared to the previous year. However, other operating costs increased by £5m, 'driven by an increase in non-cash expenditure of £5.3m, due to improvements made to our digital systems'.
The report includes the remuneration of executive board members. Employment costs for Shaun McNally, LAA chief executive, added up to £180,000-£185,000, compared to £170,000-£175,000 in 2017-18. Total amount of salary and fees (£95,000-£100,000) and bonus payments (£10,000-£15,000) remained the same. However, pension-related benefits jumped from £19,000 in 2017-18 to £30,000 in 2018-19. Taxable benefits increased from £44,200 to £46,900. The report states that 'as chief executive, a dual workplace arrangement was entered and the costs above illustrate the benefit in kind for all travel to and from dual workplace locations'.