We are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a range of challenges for the legal profession. We have been working closely with legal aid providers across the justice system throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so, monitoring any impact and understanding their concerns.
A range of measures have been introduced to support providers during the pandemic while maintaining access to justice for the most vulnerable in society. These include:
- Reducing the levels of contract administration to allow providers to focus on supporting their clients;
- Expanding how domestic abuse requirements may be evidenced to make it easier for victims to access legal aid during this difficult period;
- Expanding the scope and relaxing the evidence requirements for hardship payments in crown court cases – including reducing the threshold for work done to £450, rather than the previous £5,000;
- Halting the pursuit of outstanding debts owed to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA);
- Suspending sanctions in relation to missed deadlines for delegated function applications, substantive amendments and appeals against LAA decisions;
- Publicising existing avenues of financial help for legal firms, such as the ability to apply for early payment for work already done on a case, and changing rules for payment on account for providers, benefitting cashflow in the short-term and ensuring that providers can claim the same amount of money for online hearings as they can for face-to-face hearings.
HM Treasury have introduced and recently extended a range of measures to support individuals and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the furlough scheme, Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan and Bounce Back Loan, to provide some financial stability. We encourage the professions to continue to take advantage of this support where appropriate.
We will continue to closely monitor the situation, working with providers to keep these measures under review.