Carter, the future of legal aid and the NfP sector - a summary
Lord Carter and LSC publish their visions for the future
In July Lord Carter published his final report on Legal Aid procurement
Legal Aid - a market-based approach to reform. On the same day the LSC/DCA published their consultation paper Legal Aid: a sustainable future.
Together the papers propose massive changes in the ways in which Legal Aid services are procured by the LSC. Most significantly:
- The reforms are directed towards achieving a market-based outcome where the market is driven by competition based on quality, capacity and price
- What is proposed is a wholesale move towards fixed pricing to reward those suppliers the LSC regards as more efficient and more able to deliver increased volumes of work
The major proposals for civil and family work appear in the LSC/DCA consultation document (response deadline 12th October 2006) and below are the proposals most likely to affect the NfP sector.
The LSC proposes the introduction of fixed fees for legal help in all social welfare categories of law from April 2007. It favours a national fee for the main categories of law but recognises that regional fees may be a necessary interim step. The paper sets out proposed fees for each category of law on the basis of either national or regional fees.
Under the proposed scheme there would be hourly rates for exceptional cases. These are cases where the work, when calculated on an hourly basis, exceeds four times the value of the fixed fee.
There are separate proposals for immigration/asylum and mental health work which involve the introduction of graduated fees.
The Draft Impact Assessment which accompanies the LSC/DCA paper sets out the possible implications of the proposals for the NfP sector. It states that
if fees are set on a national basis and if NfPs do not increase the numbers of matters undertaken, 92% of agencies will experience significant decreases in their publicly funded income, and the total spend with the sector in the categories of work covered will reduce by 50% (£21 million).
A new, unified contract is proposed to replace the existing solicitor and NfP contracts, from April 2007. Some of the key proposals for what this contract will contain are:
- Introduction of a minimum fund take, either of £25k or £50k pa
- A minimum quality requirement of peer review 1 or 2
- LSC to have power to terminate the contract on three months' notice in order to introduce Lord Carter's reforms or CLACs and CLANs
- The removal of level 1 work
- A requirement for providers to be able to communicate with the LSC electronically