Legal aid overpaid

I came across this story in the Gazette this morning, which is about solicitors funded by legal aid being overpaid by £77 million pounds.  In fact, the solicitors were over paid £44m with the remainder going to claimants who had been granted legal aid without submitting evidence of income, so they may or may not be eligible.  That's a lot of money, but if we consider that the legal aid budget is approximately £2.1bn then the £77m is roughly 3.667% of the total spend - at this point I should come clean and admit that maths are not my strong point so if I've got that wrong then please do correct me.

More important than the figure, in my opinion, is that suggestion from Bill Callaghan of the Legal Services Commission that some solicitors are over or mis-claiming.  Now this can be taken two ways.  First, accidental over and under-claiming happens by accident because the system is so very complicated - in a previous post I talked a little about the billing in the magistrates courts, in fact I barely scratched the surface as nobody would want to read it and I wouldn't want to write it!  In fact, you can see that the Law Society points out that the whole system is unnecessarily complex and has offered  in vain to work with the LSC to simplify the system.

The second implication must be that some people are deliberately mis-claiming.  If the LSC has evidence of it then I wonder why no charges have been brought?  The only story I can find about solicitors conducting fraud and being tried relates to events between March 1989 - January 1995 (before the Legal Services Commission even existed).  If there is evidence then those solicitors should be prosecuted as soon as possible.

Incidentally, the firm at which I work is a Category 1 organisation, which means that when our files were audited there was a 10% discrepancy between our claims and what the LSC's legally unqualified staff thought was reasonable work for us to have undertaken on each case.  Cat 1 is the highest level possible.  This must mean that the profession as a whole as exceeded the LSC's highest standard of financial management by quite some way!


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