OSS ignores legal aid asylum scam revelations

The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) failed to pass on a report to the Legal Aid Board (LAB) outlining a legal aid scam that cost the taxpayer millions of pounds.

Former Law Society immigration law sub-committee secretary Richard Dunstan gave the report to the OSS last October.

The report claims firms approached refugees at the offices of the Government's Asylum Screening Unit (ASU) in London.

They used interpreters to get asylum seekers to sign Green Form billing forms – often in the ASU's toilets.

The report outlines how solicitors then offered shoddy legal advice and milked the system.

The average claim for asylum seeker legal advice was up to £1,100, with one law firm alone netting more than £500,000 in legal aid money last year.

“The LAB is pouring millions of pounds of taxpayers money into the pockets of cowboy solicitors,” says Dunstan.

The OSS has dismissed Dunstan's damning report without passing it on to the LAB.

“I was told the OSS didn't have the power to intervene.

“What was happening did not breach any of the professional rules,” says Dunstan, who shortly after left the Law Society.

An OSS spokesman denies that they had dismissed the claims as out of hand.

“Compared to October, we have a much much better way of dealing with these issues.”

An LAB spokesman comments: “The Law Society has raised concerns about the standards of practice among some immigration practitioners. However, no report was made to the LAB.”

The LAB is investigating 76 immigration firms, and last month announced a closer co-operation agreement with the OSS to crack down on dodgy solicitors.

This week the Government is expected to introduce a new asylum and immigration Bill aimed at stamping out legal aid fraud by immigration solicitors and consultants.

However, the Bill is expected to leave regulation of immigration solicitors in the hands of the Law Society, while the OSS will continue to handle disciplinary matters.

Dunstan says that while he has not seen the Bill, he fears it may not go far enough in stopping solicitors' scams.

“The great majority of those now operating in the asylum field, both lawyers and non lawyers, are either insufficiently competent, dishonest, or both.”