Audit Office uncovers high fraud count for legal aid

EVIDENCE of “substantial” numbers of fraudulent legal aid applications has been highlighted by government auditors.

But the National Audit Office has described the Legal Aid Board's systems for checking means tests as “robust” in a report on civil aid means testing which was released last Friday.

The report, issued just two days after the announcement of the Lord Chancellor's measures to clamp down on the abuse of aid by the apparently wealthy, calls on the board to step up its measures to prevent fraudulent applications.

In the year 1993 to 1994 the board investigated 8,783 cases where third parties alleged fraud.

The report says applicants were failing to disclose their true means “in a substantial number of cases”.

The report adds: “Evidence from the low level of prosecutions and from the percentage of cases which are abandoned because of non co-operation raises concerns whether suspect cases are sufficiently pursued to deter fraudulent applications.”

MPs will have an opportunity to question the board's chief executive Steve Orchard on the report and the measures being employed to prevent legal aid abuse by the wealthy when he appears before the Government's public accounts committee later this month.

The Lord Chancellor's decision to set up a special investigations unit to uncover abuse by the apparently wealthy has been broadly welcomed by the Law Society.

But president Martin Mears has ridiculed some of the details of the new regulations, such as powers to take the resources of an applicant's friends and relatives into account when assessing aid.