By Legal Action Group for the LAG news blog, part of the Guardian Legal Network
LAG has learnt that only 252 out of over 400 applicants were successful in their bids for immigration and asylum contracts from the Legal Service Commission (LSC). Providers were told the results of the tender exercise this week. Many are also disappointed over the number of new cases, or to use the jargon new matter starts (NMS), they have been allocated. One London firm told LAG that they had been allocated less than half of the immigration cases and only 70% of the asylum cases they had applied for. According to the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), which represents both solicitor firms and not for profit legal aid providers, some of them are facing closure due to not being allocated sufficient matter starts to make their services viable.
The NMS had been allocated to geographical areas and providers had applied for blocks of them. LAG estimates that between 30-40% of providers have had the number of NMS allocated to them reduced. The situation is particularly severe in London as LAG understands the LSC, which administers the legal aid system for the government, received applications for over double the number NMS available.
An LSC spokesman told LAG that the overall number of NMS for immigration and asylum cases had not been reduced, but that in most areas they had had been "oversubscribed" for the ones available. According to the LSC 47,744 NMS for immigration cases and 48,761 NMS for asylum cases have been awarded in the tender round. The LSC believes that there is no right of appeal against decisions on the numbers of NMS allocated and providers can only appeal against a decision not to grant them a contract. LAPG though, is advising its members to put in appeals if they disagree with the numbers of NMS allocated.
LAG believes the number of applicants for the available work must have played a part in the government's decision not to help Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ). RMJ, which represented over 10,000 immigration and asylum clients a year, had been forced to call in the receivers two weeks ago due to cash flow problems caused by the change over to fixed fees for cases. Despite raising over £76,000 in a few days in an effort to save the service Caroline Slocock, Chief Executive of RMJ was forced to admit defeat saying,
"RMJ has received the most amazing support from supporters and we were overwhelmed and touched by the offers of financial help in response to our campaign. We would like to thank everyone who has tried to save RMJ and very much regret that it has not been possible".Unfortunately it appears RMJ will not be the last immigration provider to go under this year.