2013 was a year of significant change ? for us and the legal aid system

2013 was a year of significant change ? for us and the legal aid system.  

We focused on delivering the Government?s legal aid reforms, becoming an Executive Agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and continuing to improve our casework performance. 

Our ongoing work to ensure the robust stewardship of public funds resulted in the NAO?s decision to remove our accounts qualification.  

We also continued to build relations with legal aid providers and others in the justice system with an interest in the effective administration of legal aid.  

Legal aid reform will continue in 2014 

As many of you know, the MoJ issued a further consultation on a revised set of proposals for the procurement of criminal legal aid, and litigator and advocacy fees.  The MoJ will publish its response to this consultation shortly. 

The LASPO Act abolished the Legal Services Commission and created the Legal Aid Agency as a more integrated part of the MoJ.  

We will continue to benefit from working more closely with other justice partners, as well as from shared back-room functions ? such as HR, procurement and estates ? which will reduce our administrative costs. 

We need to secure high-quality services from a sustainable provider base  

In 2014, the Agency will commission services from quality-assured organisations and look to increase its electronic interaction with these providers. 

We recently set out our plans to replace the 2010 Standard Civil Contracts, where these still exist, and tenders are scheduled for the first half and late 2014.  

In relation to crime services, once decisions have been made, we will develop a new contract management and commissioning strategy to secure the best standard of provision.

Generally, we plan to introduce more up-front controls to reduce errors, such as new contract specifications and improved IT that minimises incorrect data entry.  We will also continue to increase the visibility of our contract managers.

We want to achieve faster turnaround times 

We continue to perform well against our application and bill processing deadlines and we review our casework operations on an ongoing basis. 

We are on track to deliver our three-year plan, set out in April 3013: 

  • approve funding, for all but the most complex cases, within two weeks of receiving accurate applications and 
  • pay your bills within four weeks of receipt. 

We have also made headway in reducing reject levels.  Civil bill rejects are down by one third and AGFS rejects are also much lower.

We want to improve our customer service

We?ve already taken action to halve your call waiting times.  We?ve also piloted a call-back system which has been successful.  We plan to offer this to all providers soon.

At the end of this month, we will launch up a new, single email address for your queries and halve our response times from ten days to five. 

In addition, we will introduce email notifications for rejected bills, replacing the current system where we post the form back to you.  This should reduce the time taken to process your claims.  

Currently 60% of our transactions are digital  

Ultimately, going digital will cut unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy across the system and minimise margins for error in the administration of legal aid.    

In aligning with wider government reforms to develop digital public services, we remain committed to the Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) which covers civil and family certificated work.  We will continue to engage with providers and representative bodies who have provided invaluable input into this programme.    

Our plan is to continue digitisation by moving all criminal legal aid online.  We?ve already introduced crime e-forms to some parts of the country, on a voluntary basis, and are beginning to discuss with representative bodies wider roll-out in 2014/15.  

Working in partnership and piloting new initiatives 

As we have seen with our casework and digital pilots, partnership working can be both rewarding and challenging.  However, your input is invaluable so we look forward to developing our relations with all stakeholders, not least those who provide vital legal aid services on a daily basis.       
 
Hugh Barrett
Director of Legal Aid Commissioning and Strategy
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