Caution at competitive tendering for housing duty contracts

Clarity over new rules for solicitors’ firms wishing to tender for 2018 civil legal aid contracts were today welcomed by the Law Society of England and Wales.

However, the Society has considerable concerns about a proposal for price-competitive tendering for Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes which will be consulted on until 17 March 2017.

Duty scheme contracts are issued on the basis that there is only one for each court – the process therefore has to be competitive – but in a new departure the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has said this time it has to be price competitive.

“We see considerable problems in price-competitive tendering – the cheapest offering will not necessarily be the best. This could result in a race to the bottom which may impact on professional standards,” said president of the Law Society of England and Wales Robert Bourns.

“A price war will not improve services and could negatively impact on clients.”

“The LAA needs to set out what steps it will take to mitigate this risk. It should also keep in mind that cuts in payment only compound years of cuts for the solicitors that look after the interests of our most vulnerable citizens. It may mean that contracts which are already at best only marginally economically viable for firms become unsustainable.”

Though the Law Society has concerns about the price-competitive tendering element, there were elements to the proposals which it welcomed.

“In the bulk of cases contracts will be awarded to those firms that match the LAA’s stipulated standards and this is something we can welcome as it helps underpin quality.”

The LAA published its headline intentions for the 2018 civil contracts on Friday – for most categories there is no significant change from the previous tender process or the contract terms.

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