New LAA 2018 mediation contracts support postal & remote applications

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From 1st September it became a requirement to record Postal Application information for both client and partners for family mediation legal aid cases. These are then required to be submitted to the Legal Aid Agency as part of your monthly submissions.

Standard Civil Contract 2018 specification

As part of the new 2018 contracts, the LAA have released a new contract specification which outlines the mediation service operating requirements. Section 3.15 titled ‘Acceptance of Applications other than in person’, details that :

“an application for Controlled Work may be accepted via post, fax, email or other such method of communication as we may agree from time to time where the Client requests that the application is made in this way and it is not necessary for the interests of the Client or his or her case to attend you in person.”

It’s worth noting that section 3.17 it details that 

“the number of Matters where your Client does not attend you in person either because you accept an application under Paragraph 3.15 or provide telephone or email advice under Paragraph 3.18, must not exceed 25% of your total Matters opened in any Schedule period.”

LAA support for remote communication

As part of the new 2018 contracts, the LAA also for the first time supports providing

“… advice to a Client over the telephone, by email or via other means of remote communication before that Client has signed the Application Form”

This is a huge step forward for the LAA acknowledging the use of Skype and other forms of ‘remote communication’ within the mediation process. Section 3.19 also states that

“The Client does not have to attend your Office to sign the Application Form after having been given advice in the manner set out in Paragraph 3.18. You may send the Application Form to your Client, after you have given the advice, for signature and return, subject to Paragraph 3.15.”

Support for postal application at the intake stage

Progress Mediation provides support for tracking postal applications simplifying the process of case management for family mediation and 6 other forms of mediation using Progress Mediation 4 All.

For more information please visit our main website.

LAA – New keycard 54 valid from 9th April 2018

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The LAA keycard is intended as a quick reference point for making financial determinations for those forms of civil legal services for which the provider has responsibility for Legal Help, Help at Court, Family Help (lower), Help with Family Mediation and Family Mediation.

The main eligibility limits from 9th April 2018 are as follows:

The revised fixed rate allowances (per month) from 9th April 2018 are as follows:

More details on the updates can be found on the LAA website in the Keycard 54 general information document.

Progress Mediation services can edit the allowances in System Settings > More settings > Progress settings

 

Update to LAA CWA bulkload spreadsheet

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This week the Legal Aid Agency has issued a revised update for the bulkload spreadsheet used for online submissions for the Controlled Work and Administration system (CWA) used for claiming family mediation legal aid work.

The latest version of the spreadsheet (v1.22) is required for all future manual claim submissions via the online CWA system. You can find the latest information about the release on the LAA website or just download the file from the LAA website here.

There are alternatives to uploading your monthly bulkload spreadsheet to the CWA system. Progress Mediation provides a simplified process of capturing all your case information during the month, then generating the special file to upload to the CWA system, simplifying the submission process. If you would like more information, why not get in touch via our contact page.

First published : Feb 23rd 2018

Legal Aid family mediation – new contracts starting September 2018

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On 20th January 2017 the government published information on intentions for civil legal aid contracts from April 2018, stating that further information on the future of family mediation services would follow. Many took this as a warning sign for the future of legal aid for family mediation.

On Monday the government published new information detailing intentions for family mediation legal aid contracts from April 2018. This details the delivery of new family mediation services under the new 2018 Standard Civil Contract (“Contract”) to commence from 1 April 2018. The statement includes:

“The government remains committed to family mediation as a key route to helping family disputes avoid court proceedings. We will therefore not make significant changes to how family mediation services are delivered under current contracts.”

Clearly a good sign for existing family mediation services with legal aid contracts, and those wishing to start new contracts.

One of the major changes is the removal of the requirement for the Mediation Quality Mark,  instead

“…the Contract will require mediators and mediation organisations meet the standards set out by the Family Mediation Council (FMC) and the Family Mediation Standards Board.”

The information proposed a timetable for services applying for the new contracts, commencing with the new SQ stage opening in April 2017.

However, as a result of Brexit, the timetable for the process was modified and in August a revised timetable was published. This included the following sections –

  • Selection Questionnaire (SQ)
  • Invitation to Tender (ITT)
  • Verification process

The revised timetable is shown below:

There is only a week to go before the end of the tendering process, which closes on Friday10th November at 5pm.

Full details of the contract tendering process can be found on the Civil 2018 Contracts Tender page.

Progress Mediation has been helping support mediation services comply with their legal aid contracts for over five years. If your family mediation service is considering applying for a legal contract, we’re here to help. Our mobile software was launched in January 2016 to help keep you in touch with your workload whilst on the move.

The Legal Aid Agency has removed the limits on the number of mediation matters that services can start a contract with. Therefore family mediation services will not be required to bid for a specific volume of work – ensuring smaller services can still bid for contracts. This matches our ethos of growing with you as your service grows. You can pick the functionality from our modules and number of users that suits you.

If you’re still considering whether a Legal Aid Contract is for you, or whether the paperwork is manageable, why not get in touch.

LAA Audit Update : MIAM type – the choice is not yours…

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In the past couple of days we’ve had feedback from a family mediation service, using Progress Mediation, that received a very comprehensive LAA audit. One of the areas highlighted was the MIAM assessment types (alone or separate) assigned to a case is now being closely inspected.

Previous conversations with Terry Davis (when the LAA was the LSC) when asked for clarification, had stated that setting the assessment type for a case where only one of the parties is assessed, it could be marked as separate, simplifying the process if the partner decides at a later stage to attend an assessment. It now appears that auditors are looking more closely at these situations and expecting the assessment type to be set as ‘alone’.

This does however cause potential issues if the partner attends assessment to ensure that the assessment type for the case is modified accordingly.

We’re currently updating Progress Mediation to generate a warning when the partner attends assessment, for the user to update the case assessment type.

For more information about how case management can ease the pressures of case management, why not visit our homepage.

Update 31/07/17

On Friday we issued a live software update which checks the mediation type, displaying a warning if the mediation date/s don’t align with the mediation type defined:

However if the mediator knows that the partner will be attending in the next few days, they’re able to override the mediation type.

Update 05/09/17

This area will be officially clarified by the LAA when the guidance is next issued. In the meantime :

‘Alone’ should be used where only the client has agreed (and not the partner/s) to mediation, and attends a MIAM.

 

LAA – Changes to bulk upload spreadsheet

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The 2010 Standard Civil Contract (Mediation) will introduce a new schedule reference, which will be reported for the submission period APR-2017 for submissions completed from 1st May onwards. Mediation services using Progress Mediation won’t notice any differences for creating the monthly bulk upload submission file. For mediation services creating bulk upload spreadsheets, the schedule references will need to change to the format NANNNA/MEDI2010/17, where NANNNA is the main office account number.

The Legal Aid Agency have issued a new bulk upload spreadsheet this morning for use by services who don’t use a case management system. This will shortly be available on the GOV website. However, in the meantime they have made a version available to official software vendors. We’ve made this available on our website for downloading:

Bulkload spreedsheet provider release v1 20

The spreadsheet provides a manual method for recording cases, enabling the monthly return to be completed. If you’re seeing an increase in your monthly case submissions, case management systems can take any the stresses of the monthly return by gathering information throughout the course of the month, then automatically generating the bulkload return information for you. For more information visit Progress Mediation website.

Templates – key to mediator efficiency

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Five years ago when we were first developing Progress Mediation with family mediators, we soon realised that speeding up the administration of letters / emails to clients was key. We came up with the concept of ‘field codes’ which could be inserted into letter templates. These would pull in case information into the letter to make it personalised and informative.

Things have moved on considerably since then, gathering more and more case information into Progress Mediation, and making these fields accessible for letters. As a result, the number of fields has grown. In addition, the introduction of Progress Mediation for 4 All, which uses a different set of field codes for six other types of mediation has led to a growth of new features.

Recently we’ve been thinking about how to make the process of creating these letter / email templates quicker and easier, providing access to the growing list of field codes. We came up with the idea of a tool which sits alongside Word. This would collect a list of the latest fieldcodes, which can be inserted into letters or emails created in Word.

The Progress Mediation Fieldcoder does just this.

We’ve developed a live online database which the Fieldcoder accesses, pulling in the current set of fields used within Progress Mediation. It also groups them in categories and also provides a description of their use. As new field code functionality goes live in Progress Mediation, the live database can also be updated to make the new codes available for templates.

Simply click on the required field code, and it’s automatically added to the clipboard. This is inserted into the template in Word using <CTL> + V.

The days of writing generic letters are over – field codes make it possible to construct complex documents without having to manually edit them to insert case specific information.

Once you’ve created your templates with field codes, we move to the next stage of converting them into XML documents used by Progress Mediation. Which brings us to another innovation – Progress Mediation Template Builder. More information in our next blog…

Update October 2017

The issue with the fieldcoder tool became evident after announcing full support for running Progress Mediation on the Apple Mac – it was only capable of running on Microsoft Windows…

We’ve therefore moved the functionality to a new website version, which can also run alongside Microsoft Word when creating new letter or email templates. Simply select one of the categories or use quick search to locate a keyword which describes the feature you want. Click on the Copy fieldcode button will then place the code onto your clipboard for pasting into your template.

 

Family mediation outreach locations disappear from Legal Aid CWA

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A number of family mediation services have reported issues over the past couple of months when uploading their monthly legal aid bulk submissions to the Legal Aid Agency’s Controlled Work and Administration (CWA) digital portal.

The error Invalid ‘Outreach location’ is displayed alongside each assessment or mediation that assigned to outreach locations rather than the main office.

The Outreach Location is not a current or previously valid outreach location for your office. Where work is not done at an outreach location, a code of 000 should be entered.

Curiously, the error appears to be recently introduced, and in all cases the associated outreach locations have been used for previous monthly submissions without issue. It appears that for some family mediation services, that outreach locations have been deleted from the CWA system. Occasionally one or two locations, for other services every location.

The LAA are aware of the issue, commenting that a a small number of similar queries have been highlighted in the past couple of months, and the mediation team are investigating.

The short term solution is to modify the bulk xml document, changing all the outreach locations to ‘000’ [zero zero zero].

<outcomeItem name=”OUTREACH”>000</outcomeItem>

Opening an xml document can sometimes be a little tricky on Windows computers, as by default the computer wants to open the document as a webpage. We’ve found that Notepad ++ is a great free utility, and using the search facility can easily find all the references.

Clearly something that the LAA will need to resolve asap.

Creation of the monthly online submissions file can either be filled in using special spreadsheet provided by the Legal Aid Agency, or using dedicated case management software (such as Progress Mediation) which speeds up process of creating the online submission bulk upload file.

Updated : 10th May 2017

A technical issue has been identified with the Outreach Location code on some schedules which prevents the submission of mediation claims for Outreach work on CWA. The fix is due to be implemented in the evening of Monday 15th May, and should enable submissions for April on Tuesday 16th May.

 

Government announces new family mediation contracts starting April 2018

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On 20th January the government published information on intentions for civil legal aid contracts from April 2018, stating that further information on the future of family mediation services would follow. Many took this as a warning sign for the future of legal aid for family mediation.

On Monday the government published new information detailing intentions for family mediation legal aid contracts from April 2018. This details the delivery of new family mediation services under the new 2018 Standard Civil Contract (“Contract”) to commence from 1 April 2018. The statement includes:

“The government remains committed to family mediation as a key route to helping family disputes avoid court proceedings. We will therefore not make significant changes to how family mediation services are delivered under current contracts.”

Clearly a good sign for existing family mediation services with legal aid contracts, and those wishing to start new contracts.

One of the major changes is the removal of the requirement for the Mediation Quality Mark,  instead

“…the Contract will require mediators and mediation organisations meet the standards set out by the Family Mediation Council (FMC) and the Family Mediation Standards Board.”

The information proposes a timetable for services applying for the new contracts, commencing with the new SQ stage opening in April 2017.

The timetable consists of three main stages prior to issuing of contracts:

  • Selection Questionnaire (SQ)
  • Invitation to Tender (ITT)
  • Verification process

Progress Mediation has been helping support mediation services comply with their legal aid contracts for over five years. If your family mediation service is considering applying for a legal contract, we’re here to help. Our mobile software was launched in January 2016 to help keep you in touch with your workload whilst on the move.

The limits on the number of mediation matters that services can start a contract with, have been removed. Therefore family mediation services will not be required to bid for a specific volume of work – ensuring smaller services can still bid for contracts. This matches our ethos of growing with you as your service grows. You can pick the functionality from our modules and number of users that suits you.

Creating an MoU – taking inspiration from Lego

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When speaking to family mediators, one of the most time consuming tasks is creating the Memorandum of Understanding. Tailoring the document to the circumstances of the separating parties, despite the fact that you’ve already created 100’s of MoU’s before, can be very time consuming.

It’s been an area that has intrigued me for years – how can technology be applied to simplify the process yet still produce a document with the personal feel, that addresses the specific requirements of 99% of cases.

Taking inspiration from Lego

lego-set_smEarlier this year, whilst building a Minecraft Lego kit, the similarity between complex documents (like the MoU) and Lego kits began to dawn.

Lego sets typically provide an instruction sheet that details how to construct a specific model through a series of stages. In the case of Minecraft, you’re given instructions for building lots of small modules, which assemble into the final design. Once complete, you have the choice to adapt it by removing bricks or adding to from other kits.

Taking the analogy from Lego, constructing an MoU requires lots of paragraphs (smaller Minecraft modules) often with only minor differences between cases. These paragraphs are then assembled to form the document, which might have final alterations before printing or emailing to the client. This is when the concept of Dynamic Documents evolved.

Dynamic Documents are simply a group of paragraphs, often with a number of similar paragraphs with minor differences, which form a template.

dyndocs

Building dynamic documents

As anyone who has ever built a Lego set will tell you, following the instructions to build each of the modules is vital to prevent hours of frustration at the final stage of joining all the modules together. It’s the same with the construction of Dynamic Documents – each of the paragraphs needs to be thought through and in some cases split into 2/3 different variants to cater for different scenarios.

Embedding field codes

We’ve developed a number of ‘field codes’ which enable specific case information to be inserted into letter and email templates, which can also be incorporated into Dynamic Documents. Information like client names, children names and ages, date of marriage, etc can be inserted into paragraphs where needed – saving you time.

Generating a Dynamic Document for a case

To create the document for the client, choose the relevant Dynamic Document and select the relevant paragraphs, order each paragraph in the required sequence before making final minor adjustments to the text if needed.

dyndoc_para2

With more pressures on mediators to reduce the administrative burden of case management, it’s essential that repetitive tasks are simplified and streamlined. We believe that Dynamic Documents will help make that difference.

Dynamic Documents is part of the comprehensive features provided in Progress Mediation, case management for family mediation. We also support six other mediation types including civil / commercial, community and workplace.

Re-inventing how case emails are sent

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pm_mergeemailOne of the most significant developments for Progress Mediation over the past couple of months has been rethinking how we send emails. We’ve completely re-written the code used for sending emails from our server, so rather then pretending to be from you, it now is…

Previously emails sent from mediation services from a case would be sent from our server pretending to be from a user’s email address. For the past couple of years this has been sufficient – however as email servers have become more sophisticated to try and prevent spam, it  started to affect emails being successfully delivered.

The new email module now connects directly with mediation service’s outgoing email server (referred to as the SMTP server), and send’s it. So rather than pretending to be sent from a mediator, it really is.

Re-writing the email module gave us the opportunity to add new features; we can now incorporate pictures and text colours in an automated signature to make them look professional. These images are also embedded in the email, ensuring corporate branding is always displayed when the email is opened. We now have a number of family mediation services that have moved to the new system and are excited about the significant time savings that this is already making. We’re passionate about helping mediation services manage their caseloads as efficiently as possible. Email is just one of the ways you can streamline case management and increase your workload efficiency.

LAA new schedule number from 1st May

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laa-logoFrom 1st April, the Legal Aid Agency commences it’s new financial year. As a result the schedule number used for Legal Aid outcome returns needs to be updated.

The new format from 1st April for family mediation contract returns is as follows :

xxxxxx/MEDI2010/15

Where xxxxxx is the unique mediation service identification code.

 

For more information about the recent LAA submissions transition from paper to online for family mediation, read our recent blog.

 

 

We’re ready for the transition to LAA family mediation online returns

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online sub6Last week, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) opened it’s doors for software vendors to provide test data to the new on-line submission system. The testing phase enables case management providers to validate the new style data format generated by their case management systems on the Contracted Work and Administration (CWA) system.

During the past couple of months we’ve been updating Progress Mediation to generate the new style bulk upload monthly return in XML format. Following trial submissions over the past couple of days, we received confirmation from the LAA this morning that our latest submission successfully validated on the system. The first software provider to supply a file validating 100% successfully for family mediation on the CWA system. We can therefore pleased to announce that Progress Mediation is fully compliant for new Legal Aid Agency requirements moving to online submissions.

In a news update today from the Legal Aid Agency, it was announced that online submissions have been delayed to provide additional time for testing, preventing potential delays in payments to services. The first submissions via Mediation Online will now be the March 2015 submissions (made in April) as opposed to the February 2015 submissions (made in March).

To read more about the move to LAA Online Submissions for family mediation, read our previous blog.

For more information on how Progress Mediation can help you in the transition to online submissions, please get in touch.

LAA portal update – new login credentials

The online LAA Portal is the single sign on tool for accessing CCMS, CWA, Eforms and CCLF systems. The Portal is being upgraded to:

  • Increase stability
  • Speed up log in times
  • Create a more user-friendly password reset process
  • Provide status bars for all applications and give live information on any issues affecting performance

The upgrade will require an IT outage to the Portal and all the applications accessed through it. We have looked to do this during an off-peak period in order to cause minimal disruption.

A large number of users have now been migrated to the upgraded Portal, with remaining users scheduled to be migrated in September. You will need to access the new Portal from today (11 September 2017) for CCMS, CWA, CCLF EMI and Eforms via the upgraded portal.