Solicitors have been overpaid nearly £25m for legal aid work, public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) reported today. The NAO said solicitors overclaimed for legal aid work to the tune of £18.3m in 2008-09, while £6.4m was erroneously paid to solicitors who provided legal aid to claimants without evidence that they were eligible to receive it. Chancery Lane immediately took issue with the findings in a lengthy statement. The overpayments emerged during the NAO’s annual audit of the Legal Services Commission’s accounts, which were qualified by the auditor in consequence. The NAO said that the biggest errors were made in relation to solicitors working on family and immigration matters, where 25% of claims were incorrect. The NAO said that, in many cases, the errors resulted from solicitors claiming against an incorrect category of work or for an incorrect level of work carried out. Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said that the LSC should impose sanctions on solicitors found to be making incorrect claims. Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said there was something ‘particularly unsettling’ about the overpayments. ‘This is a profession famed for its skill in mastering the finer details of an issue, and for a forensic understanding of what action is permitted and what is not,’ he said. ‘We expect to see solicitors subjecting their own claims to a similar level of scrutiny.’ Leigh said that the committee would expect solicitors to be more careful when making claims, and the LSC to develop better controls and be ‘less shy’ in imposing sanctions on solicitors who make incorrect claims. Morse said: ‘A significant sum of taxpayers’ money is being paid to solicitors in error. The Legal Services Commission needs to build on its existing efforts to tighten its controls on payments to solicitors and on how it monitors the eligibility of cases supported by legal aid.’ The LSC said that the complexity of the fee regime, limited controls to validate the accuracy of the submitted claims, and the quality of the commission’s post-payment internal assurance processes all contributed to the errors. Commenting, Richard Miller, Law Society legal aid manager, said: ‘It is unfortunate that the Comptroller and Auditor General did not talk to the Society about his findings. Our experience is that people without knowledge of the system who try to audit files do not fully understand the work done by lawyers or the system under which they operate. ‘We would have liked to be able to assure ourselves that the Comptroller’s calculations are based on a correct understanding of what was found on the files analysed. ‘It is possible that some solicitors have been claiming against an incorrect category of work or for an incorrect level of work carried out – however these are genuine errors due to the frequent changes the LSC has made to the system over the past few years; confusing and contradictory guidance; and a lack of clear answers from the LSC – indeed, in some cases the LSC does not even know which category a claim should be in. The complexities of the scheme are what need to be looked at urgently, not the solicitors using it.’ For example – in Family: 44 Claim codes; extremely difficult to know which to use;The claim codes are relatively new, and the LSC has no clear guidance on how to apply them; so firms are submitting claims in good faith but are findingthey have made errors through no fault of their own;The rules and guidance as to which category to claim in are hopelessly unclear. The codes are complex and it is inevitable that incorrect codes will be used.Disagreement within the LSC itself regarding certain claims; Difference between Level 1 & 2 especially difficult; Guidance is vague and unclear;Guidance is mostly in the negative – it only says what can’t be claimed; not what can be claimed. He added: ‘We would dispute any implication that solicitors are deliberately overclaiming. Moreover, the extent of any such overpayment is dwarfed by the level of work in progress firms are prevented from billing. Solicitors firms cannot bill work until the end of the case – so they are required by the rules to carry tens of millions of pounds of work in progress – hardly any other government contractor works to such unfavourable terms.’
At a gathering of corporate counsel in Geneva earlier this year, Grainne Brankin gave a talk on ‘how to communicate in a crisis.’ This was probably because the general counsel at Yahoo! Europe’s new Swiss headquarters has experienced crisis first-hand.In March 2008, Brankin, now 39, was at the forefront of the controversial project to relocate Yahoo!’s European headquarters from London to Geneva, a move interpreted by many as motivated by tax considerations. In a statement at the time Yahoo! said the decision was ‘part of our ongoing international business strategy to increase competitiveness, deliver financial results, performance and efficiencies’. Redundancies followed in London, while 60 senior Yahoo! staff, Brankin included, left for Switzerland. The European HQ relocation came just a month after Microsoft launched an unsuccessful £29bn hostile takeover bid for Yahoo!. In July this year the companies agreed a more limited commercial deal to partner up and challenge internet search giant Google, which got many a media commentator excited. Brankin says that most of the detail on the deal ‘isn’t fully formed’ yet, and implementation in Europe is unlikely to happen before 2010, making it too early to say much about its potential impact. The remainder of Yahoo!’s London operation is based on Shaftesbury Avenue. Gold throne-like chairs covered in purple velvet, purple-carpeted floors and a giant Yahoo! logo adorning the reception desk, therefore, do not seem out of place in the media company’s reception area. Most staffers are in casual clothes – but not Brankin. Born in England to an Irish mother and English father, Brankin, who feels that ‘it’s always good to be a bit Irish,’ grew up in Oxford. She attended Oxford High School, a private girls’ school ‘where everyone becomes a lawyer’. Brankin says she knew she wanted to be a lawyer when she was at school, which she finds a bit embarrassing – ‘it doesn’t make you the most exciting teenager’. Around O-level time she went to London firm Laytons for work experience. ‘I got to sit in the managing partner’s office and go to all his meetings,’ she says. ‘I was in negotiation meetings, watching commercial deals being done. It was really exciting, which doesn’t prepare you at all for doing articles.’ After leaving school in 1989 Brankin read history at King’s College London. ‘I loved London and being a student in London,’ she says. ‘I loved history. My older brother was doing law, but I looked at what he was doing and decided to do history because it was more interesting.’ Brankin’s tutor, the eminent history professor Conrad Russell who died in 2004, clearly left a mark. ‘I did think about being a historian,’ she says, ‘but I like practical application. I’m not inclined to sit around theorising. I know I can’t concentrate or focus very well unless I’m going to put something into practice.’ Thus, despite the fondness for history instilled in her by Russell, Brankin took a law conversion course after leaving university in 1992. ‘I knew at law school that I wanted to be a corporate lawyer, because it was the only sort of law that made any sense to me,’ she says. ‘I have no love of the law as this sort of capricious archaic entity.’ After completing her CPE and LPC at the College of Law, she joined magic circle firm Clifford Chance in 1994, despite earlier being ‘terrified’ about getting a job at the tail end of the 80s recession. ‘I understand what it’s like to graduate this year,’ she says. ‘Back then we were genuinely worried about getting employment. We all got turned down by a few people. Some good friends plastered their college wall with rejection letters.’ She remembers her early days at Clifford Chance as ‘crashing into the depths of having no self-confidence at all. Back in the day, they had no hesitation about having teams of trainees standing by in case proof-reading needed doing any given Sunday night. It was very much the “lunch is for wimps, how corporate can you be?” attitude, and we all joined in with that. It was very competitive.’ Paris, it seems, was her saviour. ‘I was interested in working for a big firm because I knew you could get six months working abroad during the traineeship, and I knew I wanted to travel,’ she says. ‘It was the reason I applied to the big firms. I knew they had offices everywhere and the promise was that you might get to work in Paris.’ So she did, aged 25, for six months, and the experience changed the path of her legal career. ‘I realised when I was in Paris that working in a smaller office suited me better. It’s easier to feel like you’re making a contribution and are part of something.’ She says it was ‘obvious’ to her that she didn’t want to be a partner at Clifford Chance. ‘When you’re 25, you can’t imagine how you could possibly need or spend that much money,’ she says, then admits that now she could ‘definitely’ spend a million pounds a year. ‘I looked at that career path and didn’t feel the amount of envy necessary for the people above me. I thought the people who were our clients were having more fun than us.’ With her thoughts turned away from partnership, in 1997 she went to Nicholson Graham & Jones, since taken over by US firm K&L Gates. She worked on the acquisition of Fulham Football Club by Mohamed Al Fayed, whom she met while negotiating the deal on the fifth floor of Harrods, and she advised on the listing of restaurant chain Belgo. She moved to City firm Bird & Bird in 1998, in the midst of the dotcom boom, working with online travel agent lastminute.com (lastminute co-founder Martha Lane Fox is another alumna of Oxford High School) and online card retailer Moonpig. She also worked on creating the 1998 joint venture between telecoms companies BT and AT&T, and unwinding it in 2001. Her next move was to Yahoo! Europe, which she joined as legal director for corporate affairs. She was present for Microsoft’s failed takeover bid last year, shortly followed by the HQ relocation to Geneva, whereupon she took up the position of general counsel for Yahoo! sarl. ‘It was very interesting, because it was a complete head to tail,’ she says of the move. ‘As far back as 2005 we were restructuring our business along the lines of what we call fiscal efficiency. Being Swiss-based is a good part of that. We’ve also grown by acquisition, and transferred a lot of assets. Intellectually, that was all very interesting, like moving pieces on a chessboard. At the other end, you’re answering people’s questions about the lease on their new house in Switzerland, so it really is the complete project. ‘When we started, we really, genuinely weren’t sure what would happen – like when we offered people a job in Switzerland, whether they’d say no. But I think it’s been a huge success.’ Brankin also got to work in a small office again. ‘You have a lot of contact with people who are making decisions in the Swiss office,’ she says. ‘You see what’s going on in these different units of the business.’ Brankin made the move with her husband, her four-year-old daughter and Max (a toy poodle). ‘It’s very different from London,’ she says. ‘The weather is a lot better. I ski. My husband is an obsessed skier, so he’s delighted. Everyone in the office skis, and there are several people on crutches by the end of the season.’ She often walks by Lake Geneva with Max and her husband and daughter, and names shopping as another hobby – skiing, it turns out, is a secondary attraction: ‘The main thing for me in skiing is that I like wearing big sunglasses,’ she says. But back in the office, new challenges abound. ‘The constant pressure for me, and what makes my job always interesting, is trying to deliver projects across Europe,’ she says. ‘Everything I do is European. The difference between how you approach something in Italy – whether legal or cultural – and how you’re going to do it in the UK, and trying to turn that into a cohesive answer for a business, is the hardest and most interesting thing I do. There’s a huge learning curve. Last year we acquired a Hungarian company, and I wasn’t exactly hitting the ground running on Hungarian law.’ In her role Brankin looks after acquisitions, human resources ‘and everything we call corporate affairs’ – although she does have dislikes in her work pile. ‘I try extremely hard not to do the litigation files,’ she says. ‘We have other people here who think litigation is extremely interesting, and the best part about being a lawyer. For me, it’s not an interesting fight. I don’t like the lack of control. ‘We’ve got a couple of files at the moment and my main contribution is to say, every week, “do you think we should settle?” I’ve never been a litigation lawyer because it’s not comfortable territory for me. Things like contract law have a predictable, logical conclusion. With litigation, it feels like I’m throwing fees away rather than getting a revenue return. The time you’re spending with people isn’t resulting in an ongoing commercial partnership, because you probably won’t be seeing them again. ‘When you do a deal, that’s a positive thing: generating product, and cash. Sorting out a failed marriage or business relationship in litigation – I’m much less attracted to dealing with that area.’ This frame of mind extends wider than just the job. ‘As a person, I like control – when you feel like you have a strong personal influence on getting the outcome you want, rather than this kind of fate part or a diplomacy part with a judge,’ she says. Brankin heads an in-house team of 10 lawyers plus secondees, spread across Geneva, London, and Paris. She retains a small number of firms on her law firm panel to keep things ‘more predictable’. She has monthly work-in-progress meetings with panel firms and asks for estimates before work, before reporting regularly back to Yahoo! finance executives. Her legal budget was cut this year, but her panel makeup didn’t change. ‘Our law firms would probably say that we get brutal value for money,’ she says. ‘We expect our external counsel to be very competitive on price. I always ask: “Where would we rank in terms of your other clients?” A dream partnership isn’t just about getting the cleverest lawyer in that field; it’s about getting the one who values you as a client. Sometimes that means going to a slightly smaller firm to whom you’re a very important client, instead of going straight to a very big firm and coming lower down their list of priorities. ‘We try to be very loyal – there’s a definite two-way deal. The only way you get really good treatment – and frankly, really good financial deals out of law firms – is by having this two-way stream. I don’t feel I could ask for a really good deal, and then take work to someone else. We do review for value for money, but we don’t review for the joy of reviewing. I don’t like meeting people who are really great at what they do but you’re not going to give them any work. There’s a negativity to that experience. You’re saying no more than you’re saying yes.’ She offers some advice for prospective panel firms. ‘What we really can’t cope with are surprises. The worst thing that can happen to me, as someone who’s responsible for a budget, is a big bill that I wasn’t expecting. A big bill isn’t as bad as a big bill that you weren’t expecting, because one of the things in corporate life that’s very important is budgeting. External lawyers often don’t understand that, because they run a very different sort of company. They can look terribly surprised when it’s a problem for you that something hasn’t been estimated properly. From their point of view, the work was done, and they should be properly paid for it.’ Panel law firms, you have been warned. And if the Yahoo! and Microsoft tie-up gains approval in 2010, there could well be some extra legal work to be done in the battle against Google.
While we should applaud the decision to scrap HIPs, they did at least introduce the concept of preparing in advance. The public and estate agents just do not understand that, to effect a smooth sale, the selling solicitor needs to plan ahead. Agents will market a house for weeks, but do they let the seller’s lawyer know, or even establish who the lawyer might be? A simple line to the lawyer could at least enable him to send questionnaires to the client. Another danger is that agents have lost a source of income. Despite the fact that agents’ commission is linked to house prices, solicitors have traded in a free market which has driven prices to ridiculously low levels. Then agents have eaten into that income with referral fees; what is to stop these rising further? Moreover, solicitors cannot trade on a level playing field with licensed conveyancers, who are not governed by the same rules or regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. In summary, the demise of HIPs is not necessarily good news for the profession. Jonathan Williams, Partner, Roythorne Christmas, Peterborough
The Law Society and Bar Council have set up a joint working party to look at new ways of funding cases as an alternative to legal aid. With the government poised to announce the details of public spending cuts, the two bodies said they had come together informally to consider the viability of a contingent legal aid fund (CLAF) to provide a new income stream to fund cases. A CLAF is a self-funding scheme that would provide financial assistance to those deemed eligible for help in mounting civil legal claims. The costs of a successful case are recovered in the ordinary way from the defendant, and the claimant pays a proportion of their damages back into the CLAF pool to fund future claims. One hurdle is finding the initial funds to build up the pool. The idea was considered in the Law Society’s recent Access to Justice Review, and Lord Justice Jackson has recommended that the professions should examine the benefits of a CLAF. The working party will assess whether it would be viable and its impact on access to justice. Meanwhile, London legal aid firm Duncan Lewis has published a paper on policy recommendations for David Cameron’s coalition government. Improving legal rights in the UK proposes a levy by the Financial Services Authority on companies in the financial services sector, to contribute to the legal aid budget and compensate for the amount spent on very high cost criminal cases, many of which involve white collar fraud.
The future of many high street firms could be in jeopardy unless they adopt a more customer-friendly approach to business, according to a new study. Some 87% of lawyers in sole practitioner and small firms already fear for their future, the analysis found, with many citing the competitive threat from 2011 of increased competition from alternative business structures (ABSs). The research was conducted for LexisNexis’s law firm comparison website, LawyerLocator. Some 60% of 150 firms surveyed by YouGov said they expect their business to suffer when ABSs enter the legal market, while 21% said they had already suffered as a result of the Legal Services Act. According to director of LawyerLocator, Rob Farquharson, small firms fear that the post-ABS market will be dominated by cheaper, commoditised services rather than qualified solicitors. However, he also drew attention to a separate YouGov poll of 2,052 members of the public, which found that 60% said the most important factors when choosing a lawyer are specialist legal knowledge and an ‘approachable’ service – ‘precisely the domain of good high street law firms’. ‘Our research has revealed that people want accessible, trusted advisers who are experts in their field, not simply cheaper services provided by a call centre-based business,’ said Farquharson. Consumers are looking for firms that offer a transparent, consumer-friendly and cost-effective service using up-to-date technology and delivery methods, Farquharson added. Firms must adopt this model if they want to survive, he suggested. The survey showed many firms have made progress over the last three years – 85% have invested in IT; 47% have developed an online element to their practice; and 37% have changed their working hours to compete with bigger organisations. The consumer poll revealed that 70% of the public do not have a lawyer to go to should the need arise. Farquharson said firms needed to a lot more to raise their profile and attract these potential new clients. He added: ‘Practitioners need to take matters into their own hands. With great change comes great uncertainty and it will be the practices that adapt quickly that will be the practices of the future.’
The government’s non-committal response to a detailed report evaluating the year-long virtual courts pilot is disappointing. Though occasionally lapsing into mandarin-esque understatement and equivocation, the study is clear enough. Conceived as a straightforward way to save money, the scheme actually increased the cost of delivering criminal justice compared to the traditional court process. Unsurprisingly, the set-up and running costs of the technology were high, and the process merely transferred part of the cost of the first appearance to the police. Justice was indifferently served, but (presumably) the equipment suppliers made a few quid. Perhaps conscious that this was not a message ministers wanted to hear, the authors sugared the pill a little. They hazard that extending the use of the technology to other parts of the system, such as with witnesses and victims, might improve the economic case for its installation. But that would demand a much more extensive and detailed pilot at the very least, surely, thus ruling out any medium-term savings at all. To us, the ‘killer’ sentence in the report reads: ‘The roll-out of virtual courts across London… would cost more than it would save over a 10-year period.’ And bear in mind too that we have not even touched here on the justified concerns of practitioners about the impact of the scheme on access to justice.
Hugh Jackson is a paralegal at Steel and Shamash. This article is based on his LLM dissertation, The law of humanity: is the United Kingdom doing enough to support spouse visa holders who are victims of domestic violence? In R v Inhabitants of Eastbourne (1803) 4 East 103, Lord Ellenborough declared, absent of statutory support for poor foreigners, the ‘law of humanity, which is anterior to all positive laws, obliges us to afford them relief, to save them from starving’. For one group, however, the law falls short of this standard. Foreign-national husbands, wives and civil partners of British citizens can live and work in the UK on a spouse visa. They are, for the first two years of their visa, subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule, preventing access to mainstream state benefits. According to Home Office and independent statistics, there is a small but significant and growing incidence of domestic violence against the non-British spouse during this two-year ‘probationary period’. The data are grossly unreliable, but it is estimated that 90% of victims are female and more than half are originally from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. An abused spouse fleeing violence can apply to the Home Office for indefinite leave to remain, stating that the marriage broke down because of domestic violence, but evidence suggests this application (almost 1,500 are made annually) can take two years to be determined. Meanwhile, the victim is in an impossible situation. She will rarely be able to find or fund a refuge place; these are funded largely by housing benefit and are, in any event, oversubscribed. She will often be ostracised by family and friends, who may be in contact with the abuser. If she is responsible for her British child, she will not normally be able to claim child benefit. Social services can support her, but local authorities frequently offer instead to pay for travel to the victim’s home country or to take children into care. The result of local authorities’ reluctance to help is unsurprising. Victims feel blame is being placed on them for leaving a violent spouse and that they ought to have remained in the family home. A legislative framework that provides any practical or psychological barrier to accessing support can only be interpreted as a bar to escaping violence. As advisers, we must be sensitive to such cases. Many victims shy away from approaching (predominantly male) authority figures for cultural reasons. They may not seek necessary medical advice after suffering violence and may fear contact with legal advisers. Moreover, although legal aid is not – yet, at least – a public fund, advisers often report that victims experience a false feeling of disentitlement, dissuading them from seeking legal advice regarding housing and support. One survey noted that a victim did not seek help from a citizens advice bureau, considering that, because she was not a citizen, she could not be helped by them. So what is the solution? One might be to modify the ‘no recourse’ rule. It is not realistic to argue that all 80,000 spouse visas issued annually should allow access to benefits, but the rule could arguably be removed when a domestic violence application is made to the Home Office. This would minimise the time a victim spends without support (and could allow a backdating of funding for refuges). An alternative is to require violent spouses to pay for the upkeep of their abused spouses. However, my research suggests this risks retaliation, even in cases where the abusers can pay that upkeep. It also reinforces a notion that the victim is financially reliant on the abuser, which maintains the power discrepancy between the spouses, an arguable cause of the violence. One could also reclassify housing benefit as not a public fund, extend asylum support to cover these non-asylum cases or reform the probationary period. Whatever the solution, the current legislative framework, and the culture of ineligibility it creates, poses an uncomfortable dilemma for this most vulnerable group of people: remain with a violent spouse or escape to the unsupported unknown. I suspect Lord Ellenborough would not approve.
Leading family solicitors have warned that withdrawing legal aid for private law family cases could lead desperate parents to abduct their children. Lawyers also predicted that the government’s reforms would prompt people to make false allegations of domestic violence in order to obtain legal aid. The government’s legal aid green paper, published last November, proposed that family disputes should be resolved by mediation rather than through the courts, unless domestic violence is alleged. The government’s own impact assessment of the changes acknowledged that the reforms may lead to ‘less fair’ outcomes and ‘increased criminality’ where family disputes escalate, or people use unlawful means to resolve problems. Jenny Beck, solicitor and co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said the changes would leave people who cannot afford to pay for their own legal representation with no proper access to justice. She said: ‘Parents unable to get contact with their children or to agree residence issues may feel forced to abduct them, while those anxious that their children may be removed from the jurisdiction may prevent contact. ‘Equally, parents whose children have not been returned after contact visits will be denied the facilities to get their children back.’ She said: ‘The idea that these sorts of issues can be resolved by mediation is naive to the point of [being] ridiculous.’ Beck added that the reforms would also have a wider impact. She said: ‘They will result in a complete breakdown in family relationships. Without the safety net of legal recourse, people will be less inclined to allow contact, and parents, mostly fathers, will needlessly lose all contact with their children.’ Christina Blacklaws, Law Society council member for child care, said she also believed that the reforms may lead parents to abduct their children. She said: ‘These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There will be people on low income with no ability to get legal advice when they are at their most desperate. At the moment lawyers can counsel people out of taking such desperate measures, but that will be removed.’ Law Society president Linda Lee commented: ‘There is a risk that a frustrated parent who can’t see their child, and can’t afford access to the court, will feel the only option open to them is to take the law into their own hands.’ She also voiced concern that granting legal aid only to the victims of domestic violence and not the perpetrator will inadvertently add to the trauma felt by victims, who could face the prospect of being cross-examined by their abuser, who may have no lawyer. Stephen Cobb QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, added that the prospect of being questioned by their abuser in court may deter many victims from pursuing court action. He also warned that the reforms will motivate parties to make false accusations of domestic violence as the only means of obtaining legal aid funding.
The UK’s top 100 law firms cut their running costs by £500m to help tip themselves into profit last year, research by trade body TheCityUK has found. Profits of the largest 100 UK law firms increased by 1% in 2009/10 to £4.07bn, despite a 4% fall in fee income to £13.7bn over the same period, according to the research, released today. Profits for the first half of the financial year 2010/11 are up 6% on the first half of 2009/10, the research found. Globally, law firms saw revenues fall by 6% to $74.6bn (£46.5bn) in 2009/10 – the first decline in over a decade. The world’s 100 largest law firms reduced their cost base by $3.9bn (£2.4bn) over this period. Legal services generated £23.1bn for the UK economy, or 1.8% of the UK’s gross domestic product, in 2009. ‘Large London law firms that are diversified more by geography and practice group performed better than those that were focused heavily on the domestic market,’ the report says. ‘A significant proportion of revenue in 2009/10 came from the growth markets of central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. ‘The UK and global legal services market should see a gradual recovery in the forthcoming period, although it remains susceptible to any further global macro-economic shocks.’ UK law firms exported £2.9bn worth of legal services in 2009, down 14% on the previous year but nearly three times the level a decade earlier. Barristers exported £152m worth of legal services in 2010, up from £131m in 2009. Taking account of imports of £714m, net exports of UK legal services stood at £2.5bn in 2009, the research found. Revenues at the largest 50 law firms in London decreased for the second year running in 2009/10 to £6.54bn, a fall of 4% on the previous year. Meanwhile, US firms in London reported a 1% increase in fee revenue, marking their sixth successive year of growth.
The Financial Inclusion Fund’s (FIF) free national debt advice service is set to close after the government axed its £25m-a-year funding. Last month, the financial secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, confirmed that funding for the free face-to-face advice service, which has operated since 2005, will end in March. The project helps around 100,000 people every year to manage their debts. Its closure will mean the redundancy of 500 debt advisers, at a time when the demand for debt advice is predicted to soar. Tobias Stapf, FIF project manager in London, said: ‘Last year the FIF debt advice service was found by the National Audit Office to provide “value for money” because it is saving significant amounts for the government, the courts [and other bodies]. ‘Time and time again it has been shown that timely and expert intervention in debt problems can prevent debts spiralling out of control and help people get their lives back on track.’ A Treasury spokeswoman said government had already announced a free and impartial national financial advice service.