Plans for price-competitive tendering for housing duty schemes could prompt ‘race to bottom’

Chancery Lane has attacked plans for price-competitive tendering for housing possession court duty schemes as ‘a race to the bottom’ whilst welcoming clarity for the tender for 2018 civil legal aid contracts.

Duty scheme contracts will be allocated on the basis of one per court but, for the first time, this will be done on the basis of price competition.

According to the Legal Aid Agency: ‘Ministers are currently considering plans to revise the approach for the delivery of housing possession court duty schemes (HPCDS) contracts. It is proposed that contracts would be procured via a competition which includes an element of both price and quality and providers would be required to deliver services across all courts in larger scheme areas, thus increasing the size of most contracts. The approach will be informed by the policy consultation. We additionally propose to amend the rules for claiming for HPCDS work so that organisations can claim an HPCDS fee even where the case progresses to a full legal help matter.’

‘We see considerable problems in price-competitive tendering – the cheapest offering will not necessarily be the best. This could result in a race to the bottom which may impact on professional standards,’  commented Law Society president Robert Bourns. ‘A price war will not improve services and could negatively impact on clients.’

‘The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) needs to set out what steps it will take to mitigate this risk,’ Bourns said. ‘It should also keep in mind that cuts in payment only compound years of cuts for the solicitors that look after the interests of our most vulnerable citizens. It may mean that contracts which are already at best only marginally economically viable for firms become unsustainable.’

Chancery Lane noted that ‘in the bulk of cases’ contracts would be awarded to those firms that match the LAA’s stipulated standards ‘and this is something we can welcome as it helps underpin quality’.

You can read more about the LAA’s plans here.


About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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