A Ministry of Justice consultation on proposed changes to the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (HPCDS) fails to address the fundamental issues of sustainability, the Law Society has claimed.
Chancery Lane said it generally agreed with most of the proposals contained in the consultation, which closed on 3 January. These were that:
- There should be separate tenders for individual courts.
- The use of agents should continue to be permitted.
- The current ‘nil session fee’ should be replaced with an attendance fee equivalent to the fee payable had the provider seen two clients.
- Providers should be allowed to claim the Scheme fee in addition to the fee for any Legal Help follow up work.
- Reasonable travel costs can be factored into the bid but on a price competitive basis.
The Law Society said HPCDS sustainability issues could not be properly resolved “without addressing the serious sustainability issues affecting the Housing and Debt legal aid contracts which are a prerequisite for obtaining an HPCDS contract”.
It claimed the HPCDS fees were too low and were not commercially viable. It also pointed to uncertainty created by the HMCTS court closure programme “which means that some schemes will disappear and remaining schemes will be impacted by closures of neighbouring courts”
In terms of the specific consultation proposals the Law Society made the following points:
- It agreed with tenders for individual courts.
- It agreed that agents should be continue to be permitted as this provided some flexibility for dealing with variations in volume. It also argued that joint bids should be permitted.
- It argued that the proposed attendance fee should be equivalent to the fee payable had the provider seen three clients rather than two as proposed.
- It agreed with the proposal that allows the scheme fee to be claimed as well as the Legal Help fee for follow up work.
- It said that travel costs must include a fee for travel time as well as travel disbursements but it opposed the proposal that travel costs should be tendered on a price competitive basis. “We think this introduces unnecessary complexity to the tender process and that if the aim is to encourage local providers, this can be achieved by other means”
The MoJ consultation can be found here.
You can download the Law Society’s full response here: Law Society response to Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme consultation (PDF 684KB)