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Court fee cap is delayed for a month

The introduction of a cap on independent social workers’ fees has been delayed by a month, it has emerged.

Capping hourly court fees at the standard Cafcass rates of £30 per hour outside London and £33 in the capital was set for implementation on 14 October but the move has been suspended for a month until 15 November to allow Ministry of Justice officials to have “further discussions”, according to a campaign group fighting the plan. BASW is among the group resisting the fee capping move, along with Nagalro and two private independent social work companies, ISWA and WillisPalmer.

The proposal to cap fees was outlined following a Legal Services Commission (LSC) consultation last year which focused mainly on the fees charged by solicitors. Since the consultation, however, half of experienced children and family lawyers have not been awarded contracts to practice from LSC tenders, according to the opposition campaign group.

The problem prompted The Law Society to launch a judicial review into the entire MoJ plan, news that immediately led the LSC to suspend the reforms.

Mark Willis, the managing director of WillisPalmer, which has more than 300 independent social work contractors, said that when the group put a number of questions to the then head of family legal aid Alan Pitts in March, he had very few answers about the cost of expert ISW’s and the savings the government would make by introducing the cap.

“We have serious reservations about the extent to which a proper impact assessment has been made about those people who will be most affected by the loss of independent social workers – i.e. vulnerable children,” said Mr Willis.

“We believe there will be a significant loss of top quality ISW expert witnesses from the court arena at a time we can ill afford to lose them particularly in relation to difficulties currently being experienced by Cafcass,” he added.

The campaign group is calling for the previous decisions to be suspended and for the issue to be put into the Family Justice Review, to which BASW has submitted written evidence and will offer oral evidence on 1 October.