Spending watchdog refuses LSC clean bill of health for fourth year

The National Audit Office reported that legal aid lawyers were overpaid by over £20m last year, plus £15 million went on funding costs for people who did not appear to have been eligible for the help. The spending watchdog refused to give the Legal Services Commission a clean bill of health for the fourth year running last week. However the Commission was praised for reducing irregular payments in England and Wales by 28 per cent.

‘The Commission continues to improve its processes which has led to substantial reductions in the level of irregular payments made to legal aid providers, but there remains scope for further progress to reduce them further,’ wrote NAO head Amyas Morse in his conclusions. ‘At a time when the Commission is reducing its costs whilst implementing substantial reforms to legal aid this represents a significant challenge.’


 Number crunching

 2.5 million: the total number of legal acts of assistance funded overall in 2011/12

Legal aid spend in 2011/12:

  • Total funding: the LSC spent £2,078.4 million in legal aid (£2,091.8m in 2010/11)
  • CLS: £977.7m spent on funding 1.09m acts of advice and assistance (£962.5m and 1.25m in 2010/11) –13% decrease in the numbers of acts and assistance on last year
  • CDS: £1,101m spent on funding 1.39m acts of advice and assistance – compared to £1129.3m and 1.47m in 2010/11 – 6% decrease in the numbers of acts and assistance on last year
  • Admin: £82.1m was spent on LSC administration, including £8m of redundancy payments (£99m in 2010/11)
  • Contracts: the LSC held 1,976 civil and 1,640 crime contracts (2,335 and 1,733 crime contracts in 2010/11)
  • Overpayments: an estimated £20.4m of overpayments to legal aid providers, reduced from £28.3m in 2010/11


Community Legal Service:

  • 89% of controlled work cases resulted in a substantive benefit that the client as reported by legal service providers

Legal help, number of acts of assistance by provider type:

  • Solicitors: 386,375
  • CLA triage: 200,737
  • NfP organisations: 195,477
  • CLA telephone advice: 97,872
  • Housing duty solicitors: 33,752
  • CLA centres: 25,588

CLA helpline:

  • 200,737 enquiries closed at ‘triage stage’ (by operator ‘resolving the issue to the client’s satisfaction or referring them to a local face-to-face provider or alternative helpline’)
  • 97,872 acts of advice handled by telephone advisers
  • Specialist telephone advice by type: debt (25,138); family (20,845); housing (20,709); welfare benefits (19,419); employment (9,163); and education (2585)

Criminal Defence Service:

  • CDS Direct: Of 143,602 telephone advice matters in 2011/12, 115,497 were delivered by CDS Direct (remainder delivered by individual providers)
    99% of calls back to the stations were made within 15 minutes – the overall average time to make a call following a request was 3 minutes and 14 seconds.
  • The Public Defender Service opened 3,197 files in 2011-12

Each year, the LSC set a series of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and milestones to help it hit strategic objectives.

One KPI was ‘missed’:

  • KPI6: ‘Customer service (complaints)’.  The basis of measurement is the time taken to respond against internally agreed timescales or the statutory response time for 20 working days for freedom of information requests and 40 calendar days for data protection requests.
    The LSC did not meet ‘certain targets for responses to complaints and MPs correspondence’.

One KPI was ‘largely achieved’

  • KPI1: ‘coverage’ to include full coverage of duty rotas. The crime element of this target was not met.  Although there was 100% duty slot coverage for the year, the target of deploying 99% of calls within 120 minutes was narrowly missed.

One KPI was ‘partially achieved’:

  • KPI5: ‘Legal aid processing times and quality measures’.  The KPI is made up of a number of measures providing an indication of the customer experience.  To meet the overall KPI, specified performance levels must be achieved for at least 10 out of 12 targets.  ‘The LSC has indicated that it started the year with a backlog of cases and therefore target measures were not achieved at that time.  During the course of the year, it implemented a series of initiatives such that, at year-end, 13 out of the 16 measures were on target.’

Four KPIs were fully achieved:

  • KPI2: ‘Deliver the programme of work and savings initiatives which would enable the LSC to live within the forecast fund budget for the 2011-12 financial year’;
  • KPI3: ‘Implement the appropriate efficiency measures so that the LSC can live within the administration budget for the 2011-12 financial year’;
  • KPI4: ‘Financial Management’ including to action recoveries to the value of £10m; reduce debt by £10m; and reduce in the year family error rates by 20%; and
  • KPI7: ‘People and Performance Management’ with sickness absence days to be an average of 7.7 or fewer per person for the year and 99% of staff to have a performance development review.



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