Working with clients and making applications
We understand in the current situation it may not be possible to meet clients in person. Your well-being and that of your clients is important to us. You should read the latest advice about avoiding catching or spreading coronavirus (COVID-19).
Public Health England (PHE) advice on the risk of handling post or freight is there is no perceived increase in risk (as of 20 March 2020) in using post services.
Domestic violence and child abuse: amendments to evidence requirements
We have expanded how domestic violence requirements may be evidenced to make it easier for victims of domestic and child abuse to access legal aid during this difficult period. These changes give as much flexibility as possible within the existing legislation.
As of 9 April 2020 the followings changes will apply to the guidance in relation to evidence of both domestic violence and child abuse:
- removing the need for evidence to be submitted on letter headed paper where required
- allowing additional evidence types to be submitted via email
- allowing solicitors to provide us 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
You can find out more by downloading our guidance on GOV.UK under the ‘civil’ section of this page:
Legal aid guidance – to download ‘Evidence requirements for private family law guidance’
Crime Telephone advice
If a client stays at home following advice from the NHS, or PHE guidance, we would consider this a good reason for non-attendance at your office, as per section 9.121 of the crime specification.
Assessing financial eligibility where a client cannot attend
The contract specification allows you in certain situations to assess means without accompanying evidence where it is not practicable to do so:
- section 3.6 crime
- section 3.24 civil
Where a client is staying at home, it may still be possible to collect evidence by email or post. Reasonable efforts to collect evidence should still be made and recorded, before assessing without evidence if that is not possible.
When the LAA assess Civil or Crime Applications under any scheme we will exercise the same discretion as above. Providers should submit what evidence they have available and highlight any issues they have had collecting other documentation.
Using digital signatures
Digital client signatures will be acceptable as an alternative to handwritten (‘wet’) signatures and will meet our contract requirements.
The Law Society has guidance and practice notes in this area:
We will accept all digital methods which meet the requirements outlined as Simple Contracts in the Law Society practice note.
Text messages are not considered an acceptable method of digital signature and are not covered by the Law Society.
In situations where it is not possible to get a client signature, digitally or otherwise, you should make a note on the file explaining why, countersigned by a supervisor, and also make a note on the application/form when submitted to avoid delays or issues with processing. You should also seek a signature at the earliest possible opportunity.
For avoidance of doubt, supervisor signatures may also be provided digitally to enable effective remote supervision, as long as they are clearly related to the relevant file notes.
Criminal legal aid applications, reassessments & reviews
We will allow additional time for the provision of evidence for Crown Court applications where possible and will accept uploaded photographs of relevant evidence.
When considering Income Evidence Sanctions for the non-provision of evidence, we will take account of any issues related to COVID-19 when considering whether the client has demonstrated a “reasonable excuse”. We will adopt appropriate flexibility in relation to evidence provision surrounding additional expenditure incurred by Defendants on Hardship applications and eligibility reviews.
Client finances and contributions
Where an applicant’s financial position changes, we will exercise our discretion in allowing more time for the applicant to provide evidence relating to a ‘change in financial circumstances’ (CIFC) if required.
We will also exercise our discretion when considering the evidence provisions surrounding expenditure incurred by applicants.
If an applicant’s financial situation changes due to them being furloughed, they should explain their employer’s furlough approach on a CIFC and we will reassess their application and or contribution. An applicant should also notify us if they are furloughed but have a second job (either pre-existing or new).
They should notify the LAA of CIFC when their furlough ends.
Civil contribution collection and enforcement
Civil contributions will continue to be collected.
If a client experiences a change in financial circumstances making payment difficult, we will suspend chasing contributions for them, and make the reassessment of means process as simple as possible.
Where a client misses a monthly contribution, we have currently suspended the show cause process and expect that this will last for a period of up to 12 weeks. This will be kept under review.
When a debt is created, we will continue to allow the client to pay us as normal, but we will suspend the usual process of demand letters/enforcement action.
Crime contribution collection and enforcement
The Marston contact centre is operating a remote service by email. Clients can still make their payments via the Marston’s website, by online bank transfer or by following the automated instructions on Marston’s phoneline to be transferred to their payment line.
If your client needs to speak with someone at Marston, for example regarding their payment plan, they can email the support team at firstname.lastname@example.org
If your client has experienced a change in household financial circumstances or hardship as a result of COVID-19, please notify the LAA. Hardships should be e-mailed and flagged in the subject line.
In relation to Crown Court contributions, the LAA (and Marston Holdings Ltd.) will pause chasing arrears and enforcement activity until changes in financial circumstances and hardship applications have been fully resolved.
Where appropriate and a request for reassessment has been made, or a review has been requested, we will seek to hold enforcement activity (such as pursuing Charging Orders or an Attachment of Earnings) in order to clarify an individual’s financial position.
Charging order will be applied for where there is consent, for example where the value of the contribution is not being disputed.
Our approach to emergency certificates
If the client has had an emergency certificate and does not accept the offer of substantive funding, the emergency certificate may be discharged (i.e. withdrawn from that date) or revoked (i.e. cancelled with the loss of cost protection and liability to pay any costs previously incurred).
We will consider discharging the certificate, rather than revoking it, if there has been a change in financial circumstances between initial grant and substantive application. However revocation remains where a client is assessed as ineligible at the substantive stage or in respect of fraud.
Operation of the statutory charge
The approach to the Statutory Charge remains unaltered; the Statutory Charge will attach to the value of the recovery.
Where enforcement of the Statutory Charge is postponed, interest is payable on the principal amount as determined by the regulations and interest on the statutory charge will continue to accrue.
Clients can voluntarily set up monthly payments to reduce the liability via direct debit and can cancel this at any time or adjust the amount. These liabilities are not currently actively chased or pursued by the LAA as our position is secured by a land charge.
Stay up to date
If you have any questions about your contract, talk to your contract manager.
We are monitoring the situation and will update any changes to operational guidance in the first instance on our digital channels:
We will also share information with representative bodies to share with their members.