We would like to remind you that billing delays and possible recoveries of money can be prevented by avoiding errors revealed in tests of provider payments.
Here are some of the most common errors picked up in monthly tests carried out by the Legal Aid Agency and validated by the National Audit Office:
Work claimed not covered by the certificate
Check your certificates cover work being claimed for and also that emergency certificates do not expire before substantive certificates start.
If a legal aid funding certificate is not in place then work should not be carried out or claimed for.
See: Costs Assessment Guidance 2013, Section 10
Courier fees not justified
Include justification for courier fees with your bill. Otherwise, courier fees cannot be claimed as disbursements.
See: Costs Assessment Guidance 2013, Section 2.2
Work not evidenced on file
Documentary evidence needs to be provided when requested. Claims are often made for letters and telephone calls for which there is no evidence.
See: Costs Assessment Guidance 2013, Section 1.26
Work claimed while ‘show cause’ notice in place
‘Show cause’ before LASPO
Applications pre-April 2013, and the enactment of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), would have been for Community Legal Service funding certificates. These were issued under the Access to Justice Act 1999 – subject to the Funding Code.
Work should not be claimed for when a “show cause” notice is in place. A “show cause” notice puts an embargo on legal aid certificates until clients are able to “show cause” why it should not be revoked or discharged.
No work can be claimed for during the period that the “show cause” is in place, even if it is later removed.
See: Funding code procedures C55.3
Show Cause under LASPO – intention to withdraw a determination
For LASPO Certificates, applied for from April 2013 and issued under LASPO 2012, the provisions differ slightly:
If show cause is removed then funding will be continuous – as though show cause was never placed on the certificate.
If certificate is withdrawn, ie, discharged/revoked, then no work can be claimed from the date the show cause was placed on the certificate
Providers can undertake work “at risk”.
See: Regulation 42 (3) of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedures) Regulations 2012
Administrative work claimed incorrectly
As a general rule you can only claim for the direct provision of client services.
However, while maintaining cost records is not recoverable, time may be claimed, for example, for the completion of applications to seek amendments to licensed work certificates and for payments on account.
See: Costs Assessment Guidance 2013, Section 2.1 – 2.3 and 2.60.
Travel time and associated costs not fully justified
Travel expense claims should be based on journeys from the fee-earner’s office.
Claims exceeding the expected amount need to be justified on file and this will be considered on assessment.
Claims from home rather than the office will only be accepted if the travel was shorter or less expensive than from the office.
See: Costs Assessment Guidance 2013, Section 2.42 2.51
Disbursement vouchers not provided for expenses over £20
Receipts or invoices are required to be kept on file for disbursements of £20 or more (including VAT).
An explanatory note is needed on file if the nature of the disbursement, such as court fees and mileage, mean vouchers are not available.
See: Costs Assessment Guidance 2013, Section 3.1.
Legal aid guidance – to download ‘costs assessment guidance 2013’ and the ‘legal aid electronic handbook’ (see ‘1.4 Show Cause’ on page 13)