I was intrigued so I phoned a friend who has experience of the pilot which has been running since the beginning of the year. Their experience has been mixed, with technical delays and glitches, but it does have these benefits: - scanning and uploading all supporting documents - direct access to DWP database to check receipt of benefits - emergency certs within 2 days, substantive certs within 2 weeks
So I'm hoping things might just get better, cos they can't really get much worse.
Post by Colin Henderson on Jan 15, 2014 17:18:59 GMT
Ha ha - spoke too soon!
I'm sure like me you few legal aid lawyer dinosaurs out there spent your Christmas not relaxing (after years of auditing we've forgotten how) but dutifully ploughing through the online training modules in order to be ready for CCMS day - which is 20 January for the alphabetically first third of us. We've all been gee-d up by our contract managers to get with it, buy scanners, assign logons and roles and change our systems to accommodate our exciting new jobs as LAA data-inputters.
And then with just 6 days to go they pull it! Yep, its postponed to an unknown future date. Oh, nothing's wrong of course, it was able to go ahead. but they want to make it even better for us before we all get stuck in:
"The Legal Aid Agency is deferring the start of the expansion of its new digital system for civil cases, known as the Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) Whilst much progress has been made, we have listened to feedback from users during the pilot phase, and their representative bodies, and want to make some technical improvements before we start large-scale transition to the new system."
The truth is that it is not yet useable. My spies in the pilot tell me it is slow and repetitive to start an application and (in theory) the client has to be present for the whole process as the declaration requires signing at the end. And this was admitted at the training event I attended, where it also emerged that:
There is no facility to have the numerous communications which are currently posted emailed to you - you must log in to the portal daily to check for and print off letters, notices etc.
The record of communications, so essential to proving to the LAA that they have screwed up, is abysmal. This is not even a basic email-type functionality. For example, you can't even print off your work to prove you've done it unless you devise some sort of print-screen work-around. This applies to all of your communications to the LAA - they disappear over the fence with no acknowledgement or record of them at all!
Oh and you can't upload Word documents! - they all have to be converted to pdf
I could go on...
At my training event I sat next to an LAA bigwig who was there doing one of those "meeting real people" exercises. He was very pleasant, but under my relentless harangue about lack of proper communication channels with suppliers under old or new systems (you can imagine that I'm sure) he eventually cracked and admitted that the MoJ had told them to get rid of all their data-entry staff and get the suppliers to do it all to save on wages, that the MoJ's expected timescale for the change was ridiculously short and the budget for CCMS was too small to do a better system. Bottom line was it's all about cutting costs, nothing to do with digital working being better, and they can't afford to give us access to the demoralised and diminishing pool of caseworkers.
The Gazette reports some of the issues today and apparently Des (what vote of no confidence - I've got buckets of it) Hudson welcomes the delay: ‘We think that the decision to defer the rollout is the right one in the circumstances, and will continue to work with the LAA to try to ensure that when the rollout happens it is a success.’
For once I agree with Des, but my optimism that online generally has to be better than snail mail is flagging slightly.
Post by Colin Henderson on Apr 20, 2015 12:08:20 GMT
A quick update on this old thread (and for my own personal tale of woe see the Zombie Blog)
We now know that this "system" is not fit for purpose but they are going ahead with it regardless by making its use mandatory from October this year.
Some brave family legal aid lawyers at Resolution have been working with the LAA on this literally for years since the early pilot in 2012 but they have now gone public on how awkward and time-consuming it is to use:
Resolution chair slams failing new legal aid digital system
Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, criticised the Legal Aid Agency's (LAA) controversial £35 million Client Cost and Management System (CCMS) as "nothing short of a national scandal" at the Resolution National Conference in Brighton.
Ms Edwards outlined the difficulties legal aid lawyers are facing with CCMS and the continued failure of the LAA to resolve them, saying: "The CCMS has been beset with problems since its introduction. Resolution welcomes online working, but this is not the way to do it. At the last count, the Legal Aid Agency had spent over £35 million pounds on this ill-fated project. When set against the scale of the legal aid cuts introduced in April 2013, and the huge number of vulnerable people now deprived of access to justice who could benefit from some of this budget being used to fund initial legal advice, this is nothing short of a national scandal."
CCMS has been introduced as a digital means of submitting civil legal aid applications, and will be made mandatory for practitioners from October. Resolution has liaised closely with family practitioners and maintained an ongoing dialogue with the LAA since CCMS was first piloted in the North East two years ago, to help the agency identify and correct some of the very real problems the new system caused practitioners. But despite these ongoing efforts, Ms Edwards said that significant problems remain – enough to engender serious doubt as to whether CCMS will ever be fit for purpose.
Jo Edwards explained: "Until now we've taken the view that it's better to try to work with the LAA rather than against them. But, increasingly, we feel we're banging our head against a wall. They seem intent on rolling CCMS out in October, at any cost, despite the very many difficulties we have long been flagging. The the system continues to be unstable, users can't keep a record of what they've submitted and it is so slow that it can take three times as long as the paper process."
The CCMS system is due to roll out nationally in October. Resolution has called on the LAA to pay serious attention to the concerns of legal aid practitioners, who will be using the system daily.
Jo Edwards says: "My message to the Legal Aid Agency is simple – just because something works for you, doesn't mean that it works. There may have been some improvements in CCMS as a result of our work, and we welcome this. But if the system is rolled out in its current form, there will be untold difficulties come October. I say to those at the LAA - you need to listen to what practitioners are saying, and act on it now, for your own sake as much as anyone else's."
And the LAPG have also given up on it and predict a "meltdown" in October:
Introducing the Legal Aid Agency’s case management system will result in ‘meltdown of the legal aid system and chaos for clients’, unless problems with it are resolved, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group is warning.
The LAA's cost and case management system (CCMS) is 'not fit for purpose … and it is unclear whether it can be fixed,' says the group in its Manifesto for Legal Aid. It calls on the LAA to scrap plans to make CCMS compulsory for all firms from October 2015, pending a formal independent review of its effectiveness. Foisting CCMS on the profession in its current form would be 'foolhardy', it says.
Concerns about CCMS have been brewing behind the scenes for many months, but this is the first time LAPG has gone public with the extent of its fears about its shortcomings. LAPG and other practitioner groups, including Resolution, have devoted many hours of unpaid time, working with the LAA to pilot and improve CCMS, but are now concluding the defects may be too serious to be rectified.
LAPG says that although some £31m of public money has been spent on CCMS over the past three years, it is not a bespoke product, designed to meet theneeds of providers or clients. Managementconsultant Vicky Ling previously pointed out that, despite its title, CCMS can't actually be used by firms to manage cases. 'Implementing CCMS may make people less productive, especially at first,' she said ( March 2015 Legal Action 16).
Users of the system report that legal aid applications and other tasks take many hours longer using CCMS than they did previously. LAPG insists it supports use of technology where this results in better service for firms, clients, or the LAA, but adds that no more money should be spent on CCMS until it has been independently established whether its failings can be rectified. If it can't, 'a new system which works needs to be commissioned'.
Housing Lawyer Russell Conway has inside knowledge about the system and he took the pages of the Solicitors Journal recently to call it an IT disaster:
"In October, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will be making it compulsory for all legal aid applications and billing to be done online.
Sounds good, you might think. Surely an online process will speed things up, do away with a whole heap of paper. What could possibly go wrong? After all, buying a book on Amazon takes all of 30 seconds, booking a holiday takes only five minutes. Even completing a tax return online is a huge improvement on queuing at the local post office. We live in a digital age and know that doing some things this way is a time saver. It is what we like to refer to as 'progress'.
The head of IT at the LAA came to a meeting at the Law Society in 2011. He told us about their project, which he thought would be implemented within two years. The question was asked about previous government IT projects and how they had all gone disastrously wrong. We queried how robust the legal aid project was. 'Very robust' was the reply.
In 2012, the project began testing in the North East of England. I sat on a committee overseeing the project for about a year before I resigned in July 2013. It was patently obvious that the software designed to deal with legal aid applications and billing was not there to speed up the process for practitioners, but simply to allow fewer people to have to deal with matters at the LAA. Worse still, the software was so old, inefficient, and impractical that it was taking four hours to make a simple application for legal aid. In comparison, a paper-based application might take 45 minutes.
The client and cost management system (CCMS) regularly breaks down, times out, and was described by one of my more computer literate staff as the worst piece of software they had ever dealt with. Another staff member is regularly coming into work on Saturdays as she simply does not have time to deal with the rest of her work after trying to get CCMS to work, speaking to the help desk when it crashes, and trying to follow-up requests for further information which the system constantly generates. My firm is far from a bunch of Luddites. We are embracing this vile piece of technology. But while 75 per cent of our recent applications have been online, I have to wonder at the price. Spending hours to do what you used to be able to do in a matter of minutes is ridiculous.
Why did the LAA not design customised software to do the job? If it took the average punter 45 minutes and visits to 16 different screens, Amazon would not be selling many books. Instead, it would appear that CCMS is 'off-the-peg' rather than specifically designed for the task and, frankly, hopeless at achieving its stated aims.
Legal aid lawyers are a hard-pressed bunch. Never the best paid, always having to put up with cuts and bureaucracy, and now we have to spend substantial amounts of unpaid time messing about with a horror show in the form of a new software system. As feared, this is just another government IT disaster."
The paper system is slow, antiquated and impenetrable, but it does work. It's obvious an electronic system should be better and with so few legal aid certs these days it can't be that hard can it? I really wanted this to work but it seems it's just not possible to fix it as it's a rigid and restricted data entry system not a Case Management product at all (despite the name).
Would anyone using it like to speak up in its favour? Or is everyone just hoping October won't ever come?
Post by Colin Henderson on May 7, 2015 17:50:31 GMT
This week the Agency are accused being "in denial" about the scale of the dysfunctionality of CCMS by the Association of Costs Lawyers no less. They have produced a very detailed report into the system and all its faults (see below for the link). Here is their press release:
"A major report by the ACL has described the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) as being in “institutional denial” about the fundamental flaws in the new Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) that it is imposing on all civil legal aid providers. It warned that, unless this changes, the preparation and payment of bills will be seriously delayed.
The LAA has spent years building and piloting CCMS in an attempt to bring how it administers £670m of its annual civil legal aid budget online. CCMS becomes mandatory from 1 October 2015 and is projected to cost £69m over its lifetime. In a comprehensive report on the problems practitioners are experiencing with CCMS, the ACL said that it actually “deteriorates existing business processes” with poorly implemented functionality, while some required functionality has been “missed completely”. The report has been endorsed by other groups that are pressing the LAA to rethink its strategy on CCMS, such as the Law Society, Resolution, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, the Mental Health Lawyers Association and the Legal Aid Group.
Written by Paul Seddon, chair of the ACL’s Legal Aid Group, which has been involved in piloting the CCMS, the report said it can take months for the LAA to fix bugs, even when they relate to core issues such as the wrong remuneration rate. It said this reflected an approach that does not acknowledge issues or design gaps for what they are. “There is even a lack of understanding about the basics of billing, like the difference between an estimate and an actual,” the report said. “This often ignores case law, court procedure rules and even requirements in the LAA’s own contract with providers.”
The ACL called on the LAA to recognise the problems with the system – which the report lists in order of priority – and to delay its implementation if they cannot be fixed in time. “Bills will take longer to complete and are likely to be held up by requests from the LAA for standard information that cannot be initially included within the bill, and are more likely to be rejected due to errors caused by process deterioration,” the report concluded. “This will result in significant delays to payment, which will impact upon the cash flow of providers who are already operating on profit margins that do not allow significant (if any) contingency.”
Mr Seddon said: “CCMS is supposed to drive the LAA’s operational efficiency. But the unresolved issues we have seen indicate that efficiency will decrease, not only for the LAA but very seriously so for providers. CCMS is supposed to reduce payment errors, but the challenges to system use will lead to an increase in errors on bills, which could result in an increase in payment errors. The fact is that CCMS billing has been built against a flawed business process, after the LAA tried to change something it has not taken the time to understand. In doing so, the LAA has ignored both the essential characteristics of what makes it work at the moment and the basics of information management: to make the right information available to the right people at the right time. Mandating this system in its current state will obstruct the efficient provision of what remains of legal aid, further constraining representation. We call on the LAA to make an honest appraisal of the current sorry state of CCMS and take action accordingly.”
Of course the LAA are in denial: denial is what they do!
- denial that obviously impoverished clients have established they are financially eligible,
- denial that claims are in scope,
- denial that cases are ever exceptional,
- denial that certificates can be billed,
- denial of legitimately incurred costs and enhancements
I could (and I know I often do) go on...
So denial that their steam driven online post box (because that is all CCMS is) doesn't work is nothing to them. They seek to deny us a living at every turn. This is just the latest example of a mechanism to do so and to think that they will care or even listen is sadly rather naive. The MoJ would love an IT meltdown in October - us being unable to get certificates and get paid would be the very thing to tip us nasty fat-cat lefty lawyers clinging on to this work over the edge. Think of the savings! And it would all be our fault for being wingeing luddites.
Post by Colin Henderson on Jun 14, 2015 14:19:03 GMT
This sideshow saga to the End Times took a twist this week. Nationally the Agency have been sending round Contract Managers to sell its clunky electronic postbox to providers. So I sat down for a couple of hours to do only my third application with my CM on Tuesday. It was urgent (they always are in housing) My terrified client had not been mentally well enough to go to her court hearing and so an outright order had been made in her absence and now eviction bailiffs were due. The Civil Procedure Rules (Part 39) say that an application to set the order aside has to be made promptly (i.e.days not weeks) and to her credit she had seen me a few days after and then been able to come back with some of her required bank statements.
I had prepared a paper application but we sat and worked through the questions online and, two hours later, got as far as submitting it. Unlike with the all-in-one paper application, a follow up action was required and I had to wait for a request for my merits documents (the pleadings and our statement in response) to be sent. When I tried to upload those on Friday the system failed and gave an error message. And I am still to submit Post office statements which always take weeks to request and receive. So still no "emergency" legal aid yet, no court application made yet, my witness statement to the court will have to detail all this nonsense to justify the delay and my client continues to bite her nails.
Unlike us tortured, grimacing misanthropes at ilegal Carol Storer of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group is a calm, smiley sort. She organises nice things like the LALYs (coming up soon) and generally trying to keep up morale among her dwindling members. So you know it must be bad if she threatens to chuck in her job in protest at the LAA's refusal to listen to practitioners concerns that CCMS is dysfunctional. But that is what she did recently via Legal Action's June editorial:
"Practitioner groups are warning of disaster if the Legal Aid Agency goes ahead with plans to make its ‘fundamentally flawed’ Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) compulsory from October 2015.
As the countdown begins to its autumn introduction across the board, lawyers' criticisms of the scheme have intensified. Some of the fiercest have come from those who have devoted the most time trying to resolve flaws in the scheme, which aims to digitise administration of the £670m annual civil legal aid budget.
Russell Conway, senior partner at London firm Oliver Fisher, uses CCMS for 80 per cent of online applications. Conway says: 'It is yet another government IT horror show. We are engaging with it, so we know how awful it is.' Resolution chair Jo Edwards said it is 'a national scandal' that the LAA has spent £35m developing such a flawed system. Resolution has worked closely with the agency on the CCMS pilot but, says Edwards, 'increasingly we feel we're banging our head against a brick wall'.
Legal Aid Practitioners Group director Carol Storer has spent more than two years working with the LAA trying to get improvements to the system. She says she will have no choice but to resign if it is not fixed. 'I could not, in all conscience, stay in my post as director of the profession's representative body, if the LAA goes ahead with CCMS in its current form.'
Result? Well perhaps they do sometimes listen; this came out on Friday:
"Civil legal aid providers, chambers and other CCMS users will not be required to use the Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) for all new casework until 1 February 2016.
The new mandation date will be 1 February 2016. This follows discussions with representative bodies and feedback from those using the system who have asked for: - more time to prepare for the system - improvements to be in embedded before mandation"
Well now there are two dates for CCMS becoming an unavoidable hell. 1st Feb stays for those doing family care work where the applications are straightforward entering of data as there are no means or merit tests. Even then there have been issues. For those few of us doing housing where means AND merits assessments need completing every time you start or amend a case the date when paper stops being accepted is now 1 April. They say (as they've said before) that this date won't change, this time they might mean it.
CCMS remains an unremitting nightmare. The system is totally unintuitive and: - has buttons that malfunction - throws you into inescapable loops - fails to record or store information - fails to receive attachments - refuses to process bills - refuses to process complaints I'm not bad at IT and I just can't use it. I've tried on several cases now and I've utterly failed. After two decades battling the LAA's procedures I admit defeat; they have finally evolved a mechanism for denying justice which is flawless because they can blame it on the inability of the few remaining providers to work their tech.
So I will be getting all the clients I can signed up on paper by end March. After that goodness knows...