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A catalogue of errors and poor management of the financial payments system of the Legal Services Commission (LSC) is plaguing the publicly funded Bar, The Lawyer can reveal
Many barristers report being both significantly under and overpaid in addition to the widespread late payment of bills.
The next vice chairman of the Bar, Stephen Irwin QC of Doughty Street Chambers, for example, was overpaid in two recent cases and underpaid in two others. They all relate to post-traumatic stress disorder claims, and it is understood that he was paid in the region of £250,000.
The LSC, which is to blame for the administrative errors, has paid him the shortfall for the cases he was underpaid in. Irwin can now either send a cheque to the LSC or deduct the overpayments from future payments.
Cloisters Chambers reports that last week a barrister was overpaid by £40,000, and in a separate case a firm of solicitors has contacted the set expressing amazement at what it considers excessive payment by the LSC to a Cloisters barrister.
Another Cloisters barrister reports that he has aged debt of £180,000, all but £20,000 of which is owed to him by the LSC. To add salt to the wound, the barrister has been asked by the Inland Revenue, which imposes tax on bills rather than money received, to pay tax on the £180,000.
Cloisters' practice director Gerald Newman said: "The LSC is always behind on payments. The other problem is getting through to the LSC on the phone. You are frequently kept waiting for half an hour. It is much worse than it should be, as the Government has introduced legislation to reduce problems of late payment to protect small businesses like chambers."
Robin Oppenheim of Doughty Street Chambers has been paid twice for an interim payment for a sum believed to be slightly in excess of £100,000. Christine Kings, Doughty Street's practice manager, said: "He was horrified and contacted the LSC when he found out. The amount he was overpaid by he has paid into a separate account for the LSC to draw on."
She said Doughty Street barristers have been mis-paid in the past. She added: "The Bar Council has argued there ought to be interim payments. There are problems, but the LSC is a huge organisation. It's dealing with both solicitors and barristers who are each submitting claims. However, it tends to be good at tracking these errors."