In the Media

No reprieve for Specialist Support Service

PUBLISHED June 12, 2012

Tuesday 12 June 2012 by Catherine Baksi

The Specialist Support Service (SSS) will be scrapped at the end of this month, the Legal Services Commission has announced following a consultation.

Under the scheme, lawyers and advisers at Citizens Advice, law centres and law firms across the country can get telephone advice from experts in fields of law that fall outside their direct expertise.

The LSC originally planned to close the service in March to save money and avoid duplication of work. It extended contracts for three months to consult on the future of the service after the Public Law Project (PLP) threatened a legal challenge to the original decision. The LSC received 69 responses to the consultation, which it said amounted to less than 3% of the providers eligible to use the service.

After considered the responses, the LSC said the evidence suggested that the service is being used for routine matters to relieve workloads, and that a 'significant' volume of callers are from organisations without LSC contracts. Where complex queries exist, it said there are other suitable options for dealing with them.

An LSC spokesman, said: 'Since 2010 civil legal aid contracts stipulate that contract holders must be able to provide specialist advice and employ specialist advisers in-house, and to continue with specialist support contracts would amount to duplication.'

He said that discontinuing the service would save money and 'focus resource at a time when legal aid funding has to be prioritised on providing specialist advice to eligible clients'.

The SSS is provided by nine organisations: Citizens Advice, Shelter, virtual law firm Scott Moncrieff, the PLP, London firm Wilson & Co, Child Poverty Action Group, London Advice Services Alliance and Shelter Cymru. Over the past four years the service has cost between £1m and £1.65m a year, the LSC said.