The results of the Social Welfare Law and combined Housing/Family contract bids are slowly coming through. I am mindful that as I write this, firms/organisations in specific areas have not yet been informed whether they have a contract and if so for how many matter starts. But I have heard enough from various areas of the country and boroughs of London that suggest thats the results are going to have a dramatic impact on the shape of housing law provision. I’m sorry if this increases the already sky high anxiety of those still waiting – over two weeks after they were supposed to be informed.
I don’t propose to go into detail, as I think it is for individual firms and organisations to decide whether or not to go public on their position. But it is clear that some well established, extremely able firms and organisations have either not received contracts or have received matter start allocations that are far too small to be practically and economically viable. I know of at least two firms that would be generally regarded as amongst the most skilled housing practitioners in the country that haven’t got contracts.
It also seems that there has been a trend in the LSC’s contract awards towards minimising the number of contracts in any given area, or borough, with some organisations receiving a large part, the majority, or, in some instances, all of the available matter starts in the category.
Small firms, unless part of a successful consortium, appear to be simply being wiped off the map as legal aid providers.
To some degree, none of this is a surprise. The LSC’s preference for small numbers of large contractors has been clear for quite some time, and the invention of the social welfare law category itself was a clear marker that the time of the one field specialist practice was over for legal aid work. But the scale on which the change being enacted is something else again and quite shocking.
Anecdotally, it seems that private practice firms are taking a particularly big hit, but we won’t really know the full picture until the dust settles. When the dust does drop, it will likely reveal a radically changed landscape for many, perhaps all, legal aid housing practitioners.
The Law Society is apparently taking advice in relation to an apparent concurrent massacre of family contracts, but it sounds dubious on the practical purpose of a challenge.
For disclosure, my firm is OK, so I’m commenting from a position of relative certainty.
If anyone wants to leave comments about their firm or organisation’s result and position, feel free. But I would ask that people don’t add comments about other firms that they know or have heard about. For a public forum that information really has to come from those concerned.
[Edit: According to the ilegal forums, even if you have a letter with your matter start allocation, things might not be as they seem. At least one provider has had a follow up letter from the LSC saying:
We have discovered an error in the number of matter starts allocated to you in that letter. This error was caused by an issue in our database used to calculate awards where bids were tied, as once it had allocated to the minimum matter starts it pro rata’d the remaining matter starts between bidders without taking into account the number of matter starts bid for and capacity cap.
What can one say? The LSC may not be long for this world, but it is leaving us something to remember it by.]