“Keep calm and carry on” is a phrase that is generally overused in society and it is brandished on everything from posters to tea towels, but it is generally a mantra I do actually refer to when I am in the mediation room. However, I do think family mediators in the UK are now facing a situation that requires a different approach and it is time for our voices to be raised, so that we are heard.
From September 2018, my firm is about to take on the Legal Aid contract for family mediation, but in reality it will be a financial challenge, as the rates have not been increased in over 20 years. The challenge will not just be for me, but for many family mediators who have a social conscious and do Legal Aid work.
People have said to me that I should not complain as I knew the rates when I applied for the contract; however, I have my reasons for applying. I was a magistrate for five years in Leeds and specialised in family. It is during that time I developed my firm belief of mediation not litigation for separating families and in turn became an accredited family mediator and gave up my work in court. During my time in court I found that there was an increasing pressure on family magistrates to issue final orders, when in reality an adjournment would have been better for the families concerned. In reality, I believe many families are better served by mediation than a court order being put in place. It was for that reason I applied for the Legal Aid contract as it was my wish to help the most vulnerable families in society. However, from September this year I know I will face a financial challenge.
I have put together some basic calculations regarding family mediation. Every client has to have a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and for this my firm will receive £87 (an amount which has no changed for 21 years) for the Legal Aid Agency.
Room Hire £25 per session
Mediator Charge £50 per session
Admin Charge £15 per session
I would deem these reasonable charges, but as you can see we make a loss of -£3 per session. Also as a firm we are finding it more and more difficult to find mediators wanting to conduct MIAMs for £50, as in reality the mediator loses a whole morning or afternoon. In central London room hire charges can be in excess of £50, which increases the losses we face.
During National Mediation Week I will be asking the government if they would consider increasing the Legal Aid rate in view of the information provided. I will be stressing that family mediation is a professional service that reduces the costs of the family court and this should be reflected in the monies paid to firms that provide family mediation.
I am constantly recruiting family mediators, and in the last few weeks I have had online, face to face and telephone conversations with hundreds of mediators. One common theme I am faced with is, that mediators want to join our family mediators’ network that we have, but refuse to conduct Legally Aided cases. When asked, they say that they cannot afford to do the work and it is understandable. Between 1997 and 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics composite price index, the pound experienced an average inflation rate of 2.75% per year. Prices in 2018 are 76.8% higher than prices in 1997. In other words, £87 in 1997 is equivalent in purchasing power to £153.79 in 2018, a difference of £66.79 over 21 years. The current inflation rate is now 2.20%.
To add to the financial pressures of Legally Aided mediation firms the “Willingness Test” funding was removed. Firms now have to self-fund the communications with Client B, which add to the financial challenges, but still have to meet the expectations of the Legal Aid Agency to convert a specific number of MIAMs into starts. In addition, there is always the fear of Legal Aid financial claw back.
It is not a defense for the Legal Aid Agency to say that because companies are applying for Legal Aid contracts for family mediation that the rates are suitable. In my case I applied because I have strong belief in supporting families and I hope that the rates will be increased to allow me to further develop the service which is so needed.
Action is needed now to support family mediation funded by Legal Aid. To help with this change please sign my petition asking the Ministry of Justice to increase the money paid to family mediators for doing Legal Aid cases, as the last increase was over 20 years ago.