To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the penalties available to the Legal Services Commission against solicitors who wrongly claim higher payments for legal aid than they are entitled to, or submit claims and are paid for work that does not qualify for legal aid; and why the Legal Services Commission does not seek the return from lawyers of incorrect payments or prosecute such lawyers where fraud is involved. [HL6218]
Claims for higher payments for legal aid work do not usually involve dishonesty and can arise from misunderstandings of the fee schemes, or failure to obtain sufficient evidence of clients’ means. In these cases, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) recovers the monies due from future payments or by immediate payment of the full amount by the provider concerned. Contract sanctions or a formal warning may also be given if appropriate.
Where deliberate overclaiming or misclaiming is identified, the LSC can terminate the provider’s contract and seek reimbursement of monies which have been overpaid. The LSC has a dedicated counter fraud team that investigates allegations of fraud against legal aid providers in accordance with relevant legislation and approved internal procedures. However if the provider refuses to co-operate with the investigation, the LSC terminates the contract and refers the matter to the police or other law enforcement body when there are sufficient grounds to do so. It is then for the police to decide how to take these matters forward and the LSC counter fraud team provides them with any assistance that may be requested.