Top 10 tips for surviving your SQM audit

During the past 12 months I have run 30 Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) workshops for the  SQM delivery partnership (SQM DP) training over 400 different legal providers, writes Stuart Lee. I have also observed several audits, trained several auditors and conducted some reviews myself. As it is a term of their contract for public-funded family providers to have passed an SQM audit by August 1st 2012, I have correlated the key issues that should be considered to ensure that the process is a smooth as possible.

1. Don’t bury your head in the sand.
There are still providers who are yet to book a review, there is only a finite resource at the SQM DP and therefore if you wish to have your review completed by August, then you must book it. The onus is on the legal provider to do this, ignorance will not be a defence.

2. You are as strong as your weakest category.
All public funded categories and offices must be reviewed as the SQM is now offered by firm. Make sure every department/office is ready and as prepared as possible.

3. Get a good body of evidence.
The SQM DP are aware audits have not been conducted for several years and with the exception of open files will only go back 12 to 18 months for central records and will only expect to see the latest business plan, appraisal etc. Make sure your manual is dated, so assemble evidence now. File review records, staff HR records, minutes of meetings are all evidence of effective supervision and compliance but take time to assimilate. Open and closed file lists should be up to date as should experts registers and annual reviews should be completed. Try and keep corrective action to a minimum post review by updating them now.

4. Use your auditor.
The auditor is assigned to you throughout the process. Ask them what they require; who they will require to see in advance, ensure the date is suitable for all parties, confirm which offices they will visit. Forewarned is forearmed.

5. It is your chance to demonstrate compliance/ownership.
The key five roles across a practice are quality representative, supervisor, financial control, equality and diversity and complaints. Ensure the people responsible are available, prepared and the roles are documented in their job descriptions, your management structure and staff are aware of the people with responsibility.

6. Complete a self-review.
A completed self-appraisal or review form provided to the auditor in advance will allow you to determine where there are any gaps, and also allow you to assist your auditor and direct them to the compliant areas. Why would you not want to do this?

7. Notify staff of what they will be asked.
The auditor will interview at least five staff asking about their awareness of key procedures such as complaints and referral, verifying how supervision works and confirming the appraisal and development process is effective. Why not ensure staff are aware of the key areas prior to interview, there will be no surprises. Circulate up-to-date manuals and procedures prior to the review and ensure staff know where they are held.

8. Corrective action.
After the review it is likely that corrective action will be required. This must be with the auditor within 28 days, if you are having a review in June or early July this is critical to ensure the August 1st deadline is met. Make sure you have time and resourcing set aside to do this, make it a key date so it happens.

9. Supervisor and fee earner competency will be verified.
The category specific supervisor requirements such as panel membership are now in the LSC Contract however the auditor will still expect the supervisor to have undertaken a supervision course if they can’t demonstrate having supervised someone for 12 months in the previous five years and the supervisor and caseworkers to have undertaken six category specific hours of training in the 12 months preceding the review. Make sure this is demonstrated.

10. Don’ t worry.
The standard has not changed (with the exception of equality and diversity) for several years. If you were compliant then the chances are you will be now. The auditor is not the LSC and therefore will not assess your costs, proof of means, form completion and performance against the contract and will be looking for evidence of compliance and not the reverse.


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