Guidance for legal aid providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

This page has the latest information and resources for legal aid practitioners who are working through the coronavirus pandemic. It includes support from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and other organisations, as well as our own guidance and tools. We’ll update this page as we receive more information.

We're continuing to push for further guidance and clarification, particularly about:

  • contract obligations which need to be relaxed
  • practical issues caused by working remotely
  • cash flow and sustainability

To receive regular updates, sign up for our legal aid alerts by logging in and selecting 'legal aid' as one of your topics of interest in My LS. If you're not registered yet, you can get a My LS account by following the 'sign up' link the top of any of our webpages.

The LAA has published a contingency response.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has published information on the financial support available.

Cashflow problems

While there’s no new support for civil legal aid providers, this tells you what options already exist including:

  • payments on account in civil cases
  • standard and variable monthly payments

Since the beginning of lockdown, we’ve been lobbying for an increase in the number of times payments on account can be claimed. The LAA is now consulting on extending the number of times that payments on account can be claimed from two to four times in 12 months.

There have been some minor changes to provide additional support for criminal legal aid providers.

Payments in criminal cases

Payments in criminal cases information includes:

  • hardship and interim payments – all representatives
  • payment scenarios
  • adjourned trials
  • face to face hearings via video, telephone or written representations
  • prison video link disbursements
  • travel and mileage
  • deadlines for claim submission
  • claim rejects following submission
  • LGFS interim payments

Interim payments – litigators only

The LAA has clarified that these claims can be made following one of these stages in the proceedings:

  • the first hearing at which the assisted person enters a plea of not guilty (written indications of plea will be sufficient for payment purposes)
  • where representation is transferred to the litigator following the order of a retrial, after the date for retrial has been set
  • at the start of a trial listed for 10 or more days.

Law Society business continuity toolkit

Our business continuity toolkit includes an online tool to help you navigate the government's financial support packages and decide which would be right for you and your firm. There are also tips to preserve your cashflow and guidance for law firms on the job retention scheme.

Changes to the coronavirus job retention scheme (furloughing)

We’ve updated our guidance on furloughing to reflect the changes announced recently, including details of flexible/part-time furloughing.

See also the latest government guidance.

The LAA has published billing guidance for legal aid providers working remotely, including fees for:

The LAA has also published guidance drafted jointly with HMCTS setting out how the Family Advocacy Scheme will operate in light of the significant increase in remote family hearings.

The LAA has provided guidance on the movement of billing onto electronic forms and other processing and payments. This includes:

  • civil claims
  • rejecting bill payments
  • controlled work time limits
  • appeal assessment deadlines
  • working with exceptional and complex case team
  • crime claims, including arrangements for providers who are not currently working with digital files

Changes to the court assessment of legal aid bills

The majority of court assessed bills will be moving in-house to the LAA.

The LAA has published guidance for solicitors on how this will operate, including detailed CCMS guidance. HMCTS will retain responsibility for assessing any contested Inter Partes claims.

Processes

The LAA has provided guidance on working with clients and making applications. It includes information about:

  • client finances and contributions
  • assessing financial eligibility where a client cannot attend
  • obtaining client signatures remotely or waiving the requirement in some circumstances
  • amendments to evidence requirements for domestic violence and child abuse - including how domestic abuse requirements may be evidenced during the pandemic

The following changes apply to the guidance in relation to evidence of both domestic violence and child abuse:

  • allowing additional evidence types to be submitted via email
  • removing the need for evidence to be submitted on letter-headed paper where required
  • allowing solicitors to provide the LAA with an email documenting that they have spoken to a member of the police and received confirmation that the perpetrator did receive a caution for a domestic violence/child abuse offence or that the perpetrator is involved in ongoing criminal proceeding relating to a domestic abuse/child abuse offence

Additional amendments to the regulations not related to the pandemic were made on the 15 May 2020.

The supporting documents acceptable as evidence of domestic abuse are extended to:

Schedule 1 (14): “A letter from an independent domestic violence advisor confirming that they are providing or have provided support to A.”
Schedule 1 (15): “A letter from an independent sexual violence advisor confirming that they are providing or have provided support to A relating to sexual violence by B.”
Schedule 1(17):
(1) a letter from an organisation providing domestic violence support services.
(2) The letter must confirm that it:
(a)   is situated in the United Kingdom [formerly restricted to England and Wales];
(b)   that the organisation has been operating for an uninterrupted period of six months or more; and
(c)   provided A with support in relation to A’s needs as a victim, or person at risk, of domestic violence
(3) The letter must contain –
(a)   a statement to the effect that, in the reasonable professional judgement of the author of the letter, A is, or is at risk of being, a victim of domestic violence;
(b)   a description of specific matters relied upon to support that judgement;
(c)   a description of the support provided to A; and
(d)   a statement of the reasons why A needed that support.

Read the LASPO 2012 evidence requirements for private family law matters (PDF 812 KB)

The LAA has produced guidance on quality compliance issues for when:

  • practitioners are not able to comply with the terms of the legal aid contract because of lockdown
  • there is some flexibility from the LAA but note any additional requirements – for example, where you should make sure you have an attendance note of the situation as to why you can’t apply

The guidance includes:

  • quality mark accreditation
  • reducing audits and peer reviews
  • office and supervisory arrangements
  • working with your contract manager during lockdown
  • designated accredited representatives in mental health cases

The LAA has paused its recoupment activity on unrecouped payments on account and is only undertaking recoupment work needed to accurately pay final bills. This is only until the end of June 2020.

The LAA ways of working includes information on:

  • duty solicitor absence
  • police station accredited representatives

HMCTS has published advice and guidance for all court and tribunal users during the coronavirus pandemic.

Open, staffed and suspended courts

Our interactive map of courts and their status shows which courts and tribunal buildings are operating during the pandemic.

HMCTS has published:

Guidance and help for virtual hearings

Virtual court first hearings practice note

HMCTS guidance on phone and video hearings during the pandemic

30 tips to help you prepare for a virtual or remote hearing from Andre King at Lennons Solicitors

FLBA course on remote access and paperless working

Video conferencing

HMCTS is rolling out video conferencing technology to all crown courts in England and Wales for some criminal hearings. It has published guidance on the Cloud Video platform that will be used, and a schedule of when it will be available.

The government has also published:

Guidance for defence practitioners when participating in video enabled criminal hearings

As solicitors return to the office in the coming weeks, it’s important that firms:

  • complete risk assessments
  • begin consulting with staff
  • take all the necessary steps to ensure their employees’ safety
  • ensure everything’s in place before people return to the office

Our return to the office toolkit gives you practical steps to take in line with government guidance. It includes:

  • staffing decisions flowchart
  • COVID-19 risk assessment template for law firms
  • downloadable posters to display – small firms can order printed and laminated copies from us

Partner support for your business

Support from carefully selected commercial organisations we work with

Legal aid and COVID-19 webinar

Friday 26 June, 10am to 11am

This free webinar is presented by our head of justice Richard Miller, and interim director of LAG and chair of the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee, Carol Storer. It will:

  • help answer your questions about sustainability and what options are available for legal aid firms
  • go through practical questions for providers on how the pandemic impacts the legal aid contract
  • look at the LAA guidance on operating the contract during the pandemic, work continuity and providing virtual service

Watch the webinar