Chambers and barristers who do legal aid work have been warned to check for any outstanding fees owed by the 47 firms taking part in the CCMS (client and cost management system) pilot, and take immediate action.
The Legal Services Commission (LSC) is piloting its new online case management and accounting system, CCMS, in the North East from October, and will roll-out the scheme nationally next summer. Any cases with outstanding fees that are not identified before the system goes live will be transferred to CCMS, but the LSC has warned that payment may be “more difficult to obtain”.
There will be a pause in implementation of the new system to allow for the introduction of the legal aid reforms in April. CCMS will replace the current case management system, move civil certificated work online, provide an electronic document record management service, and integrate debt collection and fund accounting.
The LSC said chambers and barristers who accept legal aid work from firms taking part in the pilot need to: assign a single point of contact for each chambers; identify unpaid claims from the 47 providers; set up the accounts for all relevant members of chambers; and stop sending claims to the LSC two weeks before the pilot starts.
Meanwhile, the LSC has had its accounts qualified for the fourth year running. The National Audit Office noted that the LSC paid excessive fees of more than £20m to legal aid lawyers, while £15m went to people whose eligibility for help was not proven.
The LSC received praise for reducing irregular payments by 28% on the previous year. However, excessive and invalid claims relating to Crime Higher (Crown Court cases) doubled, and errors for Crime Lower (cases below the Crown Court) rose from £2.5m to £4.8m on the previous year.
The audited figures are extrapolated from a small proportion of overall claims. The LSC does not keep records of underpayments.