Kindly written & supplied by Jerry Bull (Managing Director of Atkins Hope, Solicitors in Croydon) & Samantha Little (Partner & Head of the Children Law Team at Russell-Cooke in Kingston) from their talk to the ALC Conference.
1. See below for a copy of the notice sent out by LAA about expecting us to report any clients we suspect of making fraudulent claims.
2. LAA states that it now wants us to report any client we suspect is making a fraudulent claim for benefits and quotes a case where they refused to pay a firm £20K in costs because they had not done so.
3. It is unclear how this duty links in to our duty of confidentiality to clients and we have no information of how this rule is being applied or if it has been challenged
4. It is difficult to know how this is going to play out but we are absolutely certain that you will not wish to be a test case on this issue.
5. We would certainly advise that your standard letters to clients will need to be amended to reflect our duty to report them
LEGAL AID AGENCY Note referred to above
“Fraudulent claims: ensure your clients are eligible
Help safeguard the Legal Aid Fund and protect yourself at the same time
We need your help to help track down fraudulent legal aid claims.
We know that the vast majority of clients and providers make honest claims.
But there are times when providers need to be prepared for frank discussions with their clients to help us tackle the problem of fraud.
Joint fraud prosecutions
The Legal Aid Agency is doing an increasing amount of work with the Department for Work and Pensions on joint fraud prosecutions.
One particular issue concerns passporting benefits.
Although passporting automatically entitles the recipient to legal aid, a fraudulent benefit claim can also mean a fraudulent legal aid claim.
We know that you have a duty to act in your clients’ best interests. But you also have a duty under your legal aid contract.
So you must tell us if you suspect your client may not be eligible for a benefit.
A contract breach was recently highlighted in a divorce case.
We found a provider had breached their contractual duty to report doubts over their client’s eligibility.
Following a joint investigation with the DWP:
• we declined to pay a £20,000 legal aid bill to the legal aid firm and
• the client was convicted for failing to declare several thousand pounds of earnings.
The firm’s mistake was to accept the client’s assurances that she had reported earnings of several thousand pounds a year as a self-employed masseuse.
The client’s mistake was her failure to declare her earnings to the Pension Credit Agency.
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