This update sets out a number of issues we have changed or clarified in light of the most common concerns solicitors have raised with us around the Covid-19 virus.
We will be issuing further guidance on measures to assist applicants and solicitors with the legal aid process.
We are monitoring the position closely, and will issue these updates as and when the situation develops.
At present, our service at SLAB is operating as normal and we will advise you if there are any changes to this.
For the duration of the COVID-19 period, solicitors may not be able to meet clients in person.
This means that legal aid declarations cannot be signed by people. There may also be concerns about sharing pens with people.
If you are consulting with people remotely, or have any other health concerns such as sharing pens, we can accept applications without the client’s signature in these circumstances for the time being.
For Criminal advice and assistance and ABWOR cases: in the online application, when you are asked to confirm that the declaration has been signed by the client, you should say ‘No’, and give the explanation ‘Covid-19′.
For Civil and Children’s A&A and ABWOR cases: you can sign on the client’s behalf, and tick the box that asks you to confirm you have obtained your client’s signature. You can then say “Covid-19” in the additional information box at the end of the application.
You should record in a file note that you have discussed the eligibility tests for A&A with your client and how you satisfied yourself that the client is eligible.
For A&A/ABWOR cases, solicitors still need to be satisfied that the client is eligible.
Relying on the information provided verbally by the client is acceptable.
When completing online applications, in the sections where you are asked if you have seen “the most recent evidence of the applicant’s capital and income”, you should:
We will accept this.
For legal aid and ABWOR cases granted by SLAB, verification can be sent to us electronically.
If this is not possible, we will lengthen the time limits to allow information to be sent to us.
If an application is abandoned or not considered as a result of information not being received, we can consider the application again at any time once the information is available.
For the duration of the Covid-19 period, we will not apply the 14 day submission rules to A&A/ABWOR and summary criminal applications.
On the online system, when you are asked to provide a reason for lateness, give the explanation ‘Covid-19’ and we will accept the application late.
In special urgency cases under children’s/civil you require to submit an application within 28 days, failing which, the work done is excluded from any subsequent grant of legal aid.
We have no discretion to waive that limit.
However, you do not need to send us much to comply with our basic application requirements.
Submitting an online application with limited information will be enough for a children’s application.
In civil we need a statutory statement as well as the on line application.
If you cannot get your client’s signature for this you can tell us this was not possible due to the coronavirus and we will accept it.
If you can also send a statement from your client, even if it is very simple, that is helpful but we will not insist on that during this period.
Although there is a statutory requirement to submit an account within a specified time limit whether this is three months, four months or 12 months we can accept ‘late’ accounts where there is a special reason for all accounts with the exception of those in relation to grants of diagnostic advice and assistance.
That being so, where the legislation provides us with discretion we will, of course, be sympathetic to any request where the delay has arisen due to Covid-19.
We will consider longer periods before suspending or terminating an Assisted Person’s legal aid during the Covid-19 period.
If an AP is self-isolating and they normally make their payment at the bank they should contact us to explain the position.
There are many other ways to make payment so it might be possible in the interim that they can use another method.
We can discuss that with them when they call us.
If we have asked an Assisted Person to send us financial information and they are self-isolating they may not be able to get to the Post Office.
Please ask them to contact us so we can discuss whether we can make a decision without this information or alternatively whether they can send us this in a different way, such as by email.