The Legal Services Commission (LSC) is working with the Law Society, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) and Resolution to address civil legal aid bill rejections, it announced last week.
Too many civil legal aid bills are returned because of errors made sometimes by the LSC and sometimes by practitioners. For legal aid providers, this means payment delays, impacting on cash flow; for the LSC, additional administration at taxpayers’ expense.
The LSC estimates that it could pay over 1,000 additional bills each week if documents did not need to be returned. This would have a positive impact on providers who would receive payments faster as well as on the LSC’s administration of payments.
The LSC said it is looking at its own processes to cut down on incorrectly rejected bills. It accepted that some bills are incorrectly rejected due to guidance not being applied consistently and is looking at how it can improve the information being given to practitioners about changes in procedures.
Chief executive Matthew Coats said: “This is a joint problem that requires a joint solution. By working together, we aim to radically reduce the error rate and the time wasted on rejects. Providers getting applications right first time is only part of the solution – we also need to get it right at the LSC.”
The three organisations are focusing on: what guidance, advice and joint communications could help prevent and reduce unnecessary rejects; the most effective and fairest method of resubmitting bills where the LSC has rejected a bill by mistake; and the outcomes of discussions with individual firms with the highest civil bill reject levels.
Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: “We look forward to seeing improvements in LSC processes and greater clarity about requirements. Practitioners can also assist by carefully checking their claims before submission. This should speed up the billing process for the benefit of legal aid practitioners and the LSC.”
Jenny Beck, LAPG’s co-chair, said: “LAPG receives a lot of e-mails and phone calls from practitioners who are extremely frustrated at the delays in processing bills. For some practitioners the delays can put their practices into financial jeopardy. We will continue to work with the LSC on these issues.”