Legal aid claims not being verified

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The Independent Online
A QUARTER of legal aid applications are not backed up by evidence that claimants are entitled to the money, the government's finance watchdog reports today.

For the eighth year the Lord Chancellor's and Law Officers' departments have failed their annual health check because of discrepancies in the pounds 597m bill for criminal legal aid. The National Audit Office (NAO) said that 26 per cent of applicants claiming legal support failed to provide the necessary paperwork. In half those cases legal aid was granted without evidence of entitlement.

NAO staff who visited magistrates' courts found more errors than revealed by earlier internal checks. Civil servants had found that just 8 per cent of applicants failed to provide proof that they were entitled to legal aid.

The audit office staff found errors in calculation of contributions in four out of 10 cases.

Magistrates' courts are responsible for granting legal aid, but the Lord Chancellor's Department is monitoring it. It is also responsible for policy and legislation affecting legal aid and for funding the scheme.