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‘Massively oversubscribed’: legal aid contracts from April 2013

The LSC has announced that it is starting to notify applicants of the outcome of their tenders for Family, Housing & Debt, Immigration & Asylum and Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme contracts to start in April 2013, writes Vicky Ling. However, due to the volume of bids received, this is likely to take up to a week.

Unsuccessful bidders will be notified first and details of successful bids will follow. Housing duty contract bidders will be notified last. Applicants will receive a separate notification letter for each bid submitted (i.e. office and/or category of law), which means they may not receive notification about all their bids on the same day. The LSC advises that if an applicant has not been contacted by the end of 11 January 2013, they should contact the LSC via the relevant Invitation to Tender (ITT) message board in the eTendering system.

No right of appeal
There is no right of appeal, whether an outright refusal or against the number of matter starts awarded. This was provided for in the Information for Applicants. It appears that many organisations will be disappointed in the size of their awards.

Immigration and asylum was perhaps the most surprising, as after April, the overwhelming majority of Immigration work will no longer be in scope. There are currently 225 offices with contracts in this category. The LSC received bids from 506 offices for over 140,000 matter starts, compared to the almost 41,000 available.

As a consequence, many bidders will receive only the guaranteed number of matter starts (100 in Immigration/asylum), regardless of the size of their bids. The most heavily over-subscribed areas include London, Greater Manchester, Bedfordshire & South Hertfordshire, City of Bristol, Gloucestershire and North Somerset, City of Leicester, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire and Greater Nottingham, Derby & South Derbyshire.

Housing contracts were also heavily over-subscribed, with a 55% increase in the number of offices seeking a contract (828 compared to 533), bidding for almost three times as many matter starts as there are available (51,889). As a result there are many areas both urban and rural, throughout England and Wales, where organisations have only been awarded the guaranteed volume of matter starts (100 in Housing).

The LSC received bids for more offices from Family lawyers, although the increase was not so marked – 2,494 offices bid compared to the current 2,296. However, again they requested far more matter starts than are available 163,852 compared to 95,761. London firms will be particularly hard hit as in most London boroughs, they will only receive the guaranteed minimum of 61 matter starts.

Successful applicants will be asked to supply the LSC with information to verify their bids; but in many areas the ‘guaranteed minimum’ levels, combined with the sheer number of bids, have resulted in budgets being exceeded, so even if some bids ultimately fail at the verification stage, there will not be any more matter starts to allocate to those remaining.

The LSC has posted a ‘frequently asked questions’ document on its website, which provides information about next steps in the contract award process HERE.

 

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About Author: Vicky Ling

Vicky Ling worked for the Legal Aid Board in the early 1990s at the inception of ‘franchising’ and has experience of managing organisations with legal aid contracts. Vicky has also written and lectured extensively on legal aid practice management. She is the co-author (with Simon Pugh) of ‘The Legal Aid Handbook 2011-12’, published by the Legal Action Group. Vicky has advised over 200 law firms and not-for-profit organisations.

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