I heard of a solicitor in Liverpool who took the old Advice and Assistance forms down the pub, and bought a pint for people who would sign them. He then claimed to have given the basic advice to each, and claimed the fee from the Legal Aid Board.
A con, or at least playing the system, which I saw: a firm leafleted an area saying that people may be entitled to state benefits they are not claiming: ask for advice. Anyone who called would see an unqualified person for half an hour, and get a useless seven page letter inaccurately summarising the whole benefits system, and would sign the LAB’s basic advice form, each bringing about £80 or so to the firm.
Given that, it was hardly surprising that the LAB’s attitude seemed to be, “we’re going to catch you wasting our money, and we’re going to punish you for it”. My colleague left the CAB and became an LAB auditor. She told me that when her victim answered the door to her, he began visibly shaking.
I found the audits pettyfogging and pointless. For example, we were criticised for keeping papers in a fold of cardboard, rather than a proper file which would keep them all in the correct order. What if we dropped a file? Well, we pick it up. We got marked down for that one, and after in another office I had to pull things out of poly pockets before I could read them. Petty, and arguably not an improvement. I also got marked down for not having documentary evidence on a file that I had given my client my name. Of course I have given my client my name. So I drafted a document which recorded all the information we were supposed to take from a client, and told the client all that we were supposed to tell them: and was criticised for not personalising it more. As if you can tell someone that the appeal time limit is one month in more than one way.
Today (in case you have not noticed) I am having a whine.
Given my personality, I found the pressure of audits terrible. Just before my first in 1995, I was in the office at 7pm sorting files out, and I screamed at the floor. A good way to release pressure, but not necessarily a good way to convince colleagues of ones reliability. My usual way of dealing with emotion was to suppress it.
I feel that now, when I am working on being conscious of my feelings and accepting them, permitting them and not suppressing them, I can go back to old feelings about old situations, and cleanse them, accept them and let them go. And I feel that this is valuable to do: it was as it was, and it was alright, and my discomfort was bearable; and it is all right now.
Picture by LS Lowry.