Question 10.2: “Do you agree with the proposed arrangements for payment of exceptional cases? If not how else might we manage these cases?”
5.1 Those registered users of the forum who commented on the payment levels for exceptional cases did not agree with the proposal to set this at 4 times the fixed fee level - we believe this level is too high.
5.2 We believe that to set it at this level would be a disincentive for suppliers to take on the longer and more complex cases (and clients) who might benefit most from legal advice and assistance.
5.3 The fact that both the regional and national fee levels proposed are so low is exasperating and immediately suggests to the majority of NfP suppliers that the majority of their cases are in this ‘limbo’ area – that if good quality work is to be done then it will not be paid for.
5.4 The extent of the gulf between the fixed fee ultimately set, and the exceptional case payment level decided, is directly proportionate to the purgatory that many clients (and organisations) may be placed in as a consequence.
Question 11.1: “Do you agree with our proposal that eventually all our providers, including NfP organisations, will be covered by the same contract terms? If not why not?”
6.1 The forum conducted an online poll into what registered users thought of this question.
6.2 The results of this poll were:
33.9%: Yes [covered by the same contract terms]
19.6%: Yes, but with certain exceptions
6.3 The voting on this poll suggests that registered users are split on whether they find the idea of being bound by the same contract terms acceptable or not.
6.4 We submit that this is because of the high level of mistrust which Lord Carter’s report may have engendered, particularly within the NfP sector. Many of the premises which the proposals are founded upon do not take into account how the NfP sector works, the types of clients served, and the outcomes achieved.
6.5 The proposals appear to stem from the suggestion that solicitors working under TFF are the highest common numerator which NfP organisations should therefore aspire to in order to succeed in the market which Lord Carter envisages; that the NfP sector is currently inefficient and uneconomic.
6.6 Understandably then, there are mixed views on this question and we believe that many of the consultation responses you receive will echo our own view which is, that the accuracy of the impression you gain to this question will be substantially tainted by the general impression that Lord Carter has made on the NfP sector within his review.
Question 11.8: “Do you agree with our proposals on quality assurance and client service, particularly the use of peer review and mystery shopping? If not why not?”
6.7 We have already commented elsewhere in this document on the value that we see in Peer Review.
6.8 The online forum conducted a poll of registered users into the use of mystery shopping. The question was whether mystery shopping was a good or bad idea.
6.9 The results of this poll were:
83%: Yes, it’s a good idea
17%: No, it’s a bad idea
6.10 The high proportion of users who voted ‘yes’ demonstrates that the legal advice sector, most particularly the NfP sector who make up the largest amount of voters, are happy to open themselves to scrutiny where this is on behalf of clients; that they have nothing to hide.
6.11 We would stress however, that any mystery shopping exercises take note of the limited time that advisers have and so should be limited only to situations where real and tangible concerns already exist. We would also suggest that where such an exercise takes place that the organisation in question is allowed to claim the time for conducting any interview and/or casework against its contract.
7.1 We are aware that the Commission says it is bound by the Government Code of Practice on consultation exercises. We would like to point out that Criterion 1 of the Code, at 1.8, does state that written consultation exercises are not always the most effective means of consultation and that other forms of consultation may help in the process, including web forums.
7.2 We are aware that since the inception of this online forum the Commission has invested in ‘road-shows’ and meetings where it has outlined its views further, and also placed a ‘Provider Q & A’ document on its website; we do not however, believe that this is or has been adequate.
7.3 The ‘Legal Aid; have your say!’ online forum provided the Commission with a prime opportunity to speak to the individuals across the country who perform the work with clients on a day-to-day basis; we believe that an involvement on the part of the Commission within the forum would have helped illuminate what is a difficult state of change and would have to some degree helped reduce the general anxiety that the legal advice sector is experiencing as a cause of Lord Carter’s review and the Commissions proposed implementation of his recommendations.
7.4 We would appreciate it if you would consider this when conducting your review of this current consultation exercise.
The future of the online forum: Legal Aid: have your say!
7.5 We hope to continue with the online forum, in one form or another, throughout this period of change and on into the anticipated new contract.
7.6 Of the approximate 250 individuals who have registered with the forum those who voted in the online poll found it of significant value, with 100% voting that they thought it very useful and a good idea.
7.7 We anticipate that the forum’s role will now develop into a support mechanism on implementation of the new contract, which will complement the other sources of support there may be. In particular, we intend that it will provide the first and only ‘unified’ hub and interface for good practice for both solicitor and NfP providers, where views and opinions may be shared for mutual benefit. ___________________________________________________