10/17/2019 - UK Expert Witness News: A freeze on pay is shrinking pool of social workers taking on legal aid cases

Increasing numbers of social worker practitioners are no longer taking on legal aid cases
as capped fees remain static.

Nagalro, which represents ISWs as well as children's guardians and family court advisors, issued the warning after the Legal Aid Agency published new guidance fees.

The rates social workers can claim remain static at levels set in 2010 33 GBP per hour within London and 30 GBP outside the capital which are less than fees paid to experts in other fields.

Less than the hourly rate many agency social workers receive, in their regular work and can usually only be charged for up to 30 hours expert witness work.

The new family courts president, Sir Andrew McFarlane said in a speech last Autumn, cases were being delayed because of a shortage of expert witnesses including social workers and suggested the system may need updating.

"I have been struck by accounts from courts all over the country as to the greater difficulty that now exists in finding experts who are prepared to take on instruction in a family case," McFarlane said.

Sukhchandan Kaur, the chair of Nagalro, said "Quite a large number have given up legal aid work, because they are unable to do the depth and scope of assessments
needed (within the available time), " Kaur said. She said that in complex cases studying evidence, interviewing families and professionals and preparing a report fit for court in 30 hours was often an "impossible" task.

"Those who do continue are having to put in a lot of their own time for sake of child - that's what I constantly hear, 'The child needs our service," she added, "But not everyone is able (to and those who do, (it's uncertain) how long they will be able to continue."

Kaur said she usually had "repeated requests" to take on assessments she could no longer accommodate, and that she mainly only took on cases where her particular skills meant families would not get help if she refused.