Can I Claim Payment If I Do Not Have The Original Legal Help Form Anymore?

Legal Aid Agency staff are trained to "nil assess" or rejects claims for payment under the Legal Help Scheme where the Legal Help form which is submitted to them is not the original. This will arise either where an Escaped Case is being claimed via an EC1 Claim Form, if the claim was just for the fixed fee, on audit.

The rejection usually comes with the following standard wording

The Legal Help Form on file is a photocopy, including the declaration. The original must be retained on file. This is in accordance with CLA Contract Rule 5.4. It is noted that all documents appear to be photocopies. If the file is scanned, including the Legal Help Form then this should be made clear to the case workers on submission of the file to prevent claims being reduced unnecessarily. It is suggested a cover letter is provided with your claim. 

This means that although a photocopy of a Legal Help Form is not acceptable, a print out of a scanned image is impossible. There will of course be no way of telling a photocopy from a print out of a scanned form. The Legal Aid Agency case workers will therefore treat all non original Legal Help forms as photocopies unless they are told that the document is a print out of a scanned image.

What this means is that if you have lost the original Legal Help form for a case and you did not scan but only have a photocopy you will not be able to claim payment. If on the other hand you did scan the original Legal Help you will be alright. To avoid being nil assessed it is a good idea to attach a covering letter or note to the Legal Help Form confirming that this is not .a photocopy but a print out of a scanned form.

The above standard wording refers to CLA Contract 5.4. I think that this reference may be out of date now.  I may be looking at the wrong documents but Rule 5.4 of the CLA Contract Standard Terms for Housing 2018 does not appear to have anything to do with Legal Help Forms. You can find confirmation of the rule that photocopies are unacceptable but scanned copies are acceptable in the Escape Cases Electronic Handbook at page 13.

Now that I have written all this out it seems obvious, even from the Legal Aid Agency's reject wording that a nil assessment of a claim based on a print out of a scanned Legal Help form can be easily appealed by confirming that it was a print out of a scanned document that is relied on rather than a photocopy. Until then I kept struggling to remember where I had seen this rule so that I could rely on it when appealing a rejection.

One way to avoid rejections of this kind it to submit an Escape Claim for payment digitally and sending a PDF or number of PDFs of the whole file. The Legal Aid Agency have been accepting files in this form for assessment of Escape Claims for some time now.

Lastly I would like to add this whole rejection of photocopies of Legal Help forms seems daft to me The thinking behind it is presumably that a photocopy of more likely to be a forgery or somehow less bona fides. The implication is that a supplier would be risking getting struck off as a solicitor for the sake of making a claim for fixed fee £157.00 or an escape claim of not that much more. It is unlikely that dishonest suppliers would be that stupid. It is more likely that those who are dishonest and wish to take a risk will simply send a forged original form. They are likely to get away with this as the Legal Aid Agency does not have samples of the client's signature to check against. Dishonest suppliers are likely in any event to be looking for ways of obtaining larger sums than this. This rule about Legal Help forms is a token gesture to give the appearance of fraud control and is a nuisance for suppliers and Legal Aid staff.