Detailed guide: Coronavirus (COVID-19): contract management and assurance

Legal Aid Agency

January 27
18:31 2021

The arrangements we are outlining will be maintained until March 2021, subject to ongoing review, with some exceptions.

We will publish all exceptions to these operational contingency ways of working, including giving 3 weeks notice for restart dates, on a rolling schedule for legal aid providers

Working with contract management

We are reducing the levels of contract administration to allow you to focus on supporting your clients.

It remains important that you keep your contract manager informed of any issues so we can maintain an overview of the impact coronavirus is having on provision of legal aid services.

This will help us to better understand how we can continue to support you and other parts of the justice system.

We do not expect you to consult with your contract manager when you are taking reasonable action to balance supporting your clients with wider government advice.

No reasonable action you take to appropriately protect the health and safety of your staff in line with government advice will result in contract action by your contract manager.

Contract managers will prioritise resolving queries which relate to the impacts of coronavirus. Contract management focus will be reprioritised from provider visits to ensure we can respond consistently and quickly to your queries.

Responses to common queries will be reflected in future versions of this page.

Office and supervisory arrangements

We understand the current context of the COVID-19 outbreak may mean you are unable to meet the office and supervisory requirements set out in your contract.

We also recognise, that reasonable actions will be needed to follow wider government advice and maintain the wellbeing of your staff and clients. If you are unable to meet contractual supervisory and/or office requirements as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and/or following wider government advice, we will not apply sanctions.

However, if this is the case, you must contact your contract manager immediately to discuss:

  • your planned approach dealing with urgent matters
  • how you propose to ensure general supervision of work, via alternative arrangements e.g. remote supervision

You should continue to document evidence on how you have been, and continue to apply, supervision in line with your contractual requirements accreditation and professional standards where applicable.

The current arrangements will remain in place until 31 January 2021 and we are currently reviewing use and impact to inform any future decisions.

Quality Mark accreditation

We understand that maintaining the Quality Mark may be a concern for you at the current time. Particularly if you are progressing towards an award or re-accreditation due to an expiring certificate.

Recognising Excellence, our delivery partner for managing the Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) have worked with us to agree an updated approach. This continues to offer flexibility in how SQM audits can continue.

  1. From 1 August 2020 it has been possible for Recognising Excellence to conduct the relevant audit process either on-site, remotely or through a combination of both. Arrangements are made to reflect the circumstances of individual providers. Any provider due to have an audit or in the process of booking one in advance should contact Recognising Excellence. They can then discuss the options available to them in more detail.

  2. The flexible approaches available to providers for progressing audits since 1 August 2020 means we are changing our approach to allowing audit delays. Starting 1 September 2020 we are ending the arrangement for delaying an audit. This has also been explained on the schedule of processes restarting after COVID-19 contingency on GOV.UK.

  3. Currently, should it not be possible for you to progress an audit and your SQM certificate expires we will not take any action. Recognising Excellence will keep you updated and will make contact with you to postpone your audit. This is the same approach for new applicants due to progress to the next step in the audit and award process.

  4. If your certificate has already expired, Recognising Excellence will contact you requiring you to schedule an audit within 28-days. This will need to be conducted within the next three months.

  5. If you are unable to meet an agreed corrective action deadline following an audit previously undertaken, you should contact Recognising Excellence. They will assess your individual circumstances and agree a reasonable approach taking account of the current position.

  6. Recognising Excellence have also agreed an approach with The Law Society in relation to the LEXCEL accreditation. Should you have any questions regarding the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the LEXCEL accreditation generally, you should contact The Law Society. If you have an audit specific query contact Recognising Excellence.

If you remain concerned about the current situation and your ability to meet Quality Mark contract requirements you should contact your contract manager.

For all queries in relation to the SQM audit process contact Recognising Excellence:

SQM Helpdesk telephone number 01452 733 510 SQM helpdesk SQM mailbox

Recognising Excellence website all other enquiries

Duty solicitor management

We are talking to providers and partners in the Criminal Justice System within your local area and we will work jointly with stakeholders on issues arising from changes to contingency arrangements. We will discuss with providers their duty solicitor management plans going forward.

We are having conversations with providers to discuss their issues complying with the duty solicitor contractual requirements. We are also interested to hear their local experiences within the context of police custody and court listing practices.

While work levels in the police station have returned to pre-COVID-19 levels and magistrates court and Crown Court work continues to be reinstated, we recognise that some duty solicitors may not be able to demonstrate compliance from the above date. We also appreciate that restrictions continue to be implemented, which may affect providers and their staff.

As a contingency arrangement:

  • we will not take contractual action where duty solicitors are unable to fully comply with the 14-hour rule and/or attendance requirements as a result of the impact of COVID-19
  • in these circumstances, providers should continue to maintain records to explain any reasoning
  • this approach will be maintained until March 2021

Providers are reminded to inform their contract manager immediately of any staffing changes, including where a duty solicitor gives notice of leaving or leaves your employment or ceases to be engaged by you.

Contractual action in line with section 6 of the specification may be taken in some circumstances, but only where it is reasonable, proportionate and appropriate to do so.

Designated accredited representatives in mental health cases

We will resume contract management activity against the provisions on Designated Accredited Representatives (DARs) from 23 November 2020.

Statistics indicate that the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on providers ability to comply with this requirement has been limited. The vast majority of tribunal hearings billed over the last 6 months have been undertaken by DARs.

To begin with contract management activity will be focused on establishing whether providers are likely to meet this requirement over the schedule period.

This will include discussing any difficulties providers might face complying with the requirement due to the COVID-19 outbreak, for example, where part-time workers have not been able to meet the 14 hour requirement due to a change in tribunal processes.

Our expectation is that providers will make every effort to meet this requirement over the next schedule period. Where a provider is prevented from doing so due to the impact of COVID-19 the LAA will support that provider to work towards compliance. We will not consider taking any contract action against a provider for a failure to meet this requirement except where:

  • it is clear the failure to comply with the requirement was not related to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • the provider has not made a reasonable attempt to comply with the requirement, notwithstanding any issues they may have faced due to the COVID-19 outbreak

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:

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