All requests for an SQM audit must be supported by a completed application form. The application form requests basic contact details including address, contact numbers and the identity of your Quality Representative in addition to a broad overview of your service provision and structure of the legal advice team. The form should be completed in as much detail as possible in order for Recognising Excellence to assimilate a clear picture of your organisation and to allocate to a suitable Auditor.
The type of audit required will be dependent upon whether you are applying for SQM accreditation for the first time, or if you are an existing SQM holder.
If you are applying for the SQM for the first time, the audit process will start with a Desktop audit of your written policies and procedures. The Desktop audit seeks to confirm whether from a paper perspective, your service is ready for an SQM audit. As part of this process, we will consider the various written policies and procedures that underpin the way you work as a legal services provider, against the requirements of the SQM standard. The desktop audit will take place within a maximum period of 28 days from the date the application was received.
For those applicants that are seeking to hold a legal aid contract with the LAA, it is important that you consider any deadlines that are stated by LAA contract arrangements when determining the timeline for submitting your application for an SQM audit.
The Pre-Quality Mark is the second stage for new applicants, and pre-audits must be completed within 6 months of the Desktop Audit (although providers may choose for the audit to take place earlier than this).
The Pre-Quality Mark seeks to confirm the practical implementation of the written policies and procedures across the organisation to enable the Auditor to gain confidence that the Standard is being met. This will be achieved by visiting your office(s) and completing a series of activities including speaking with a sample of your workforce, reviewing a sample of both open and closed client case files, and a review of central records. The on-site audit will be an interactive process. It is usual for the audit process to identify a number of corrective actions that will need to be completed and evidenced within 28 days of the audit in order for you to be formally awarded SQM accreditation. Once awarded, the SQM will be valid for a period of three years at which point a Post Quality Mark audit will be due.
Post Quality Mark audits are for those providers that are already accredited against the SQM. In order to demonstrate continued compliance with the SQM Standard, a Post Quality Mark audit is required every three years (or sooner if there is a material change to the legal structure/delivery model deployed); this must be completed by the renewal date determined by your current certificate of accreditation or the accreditation will automatically expire.
Consideration should extend to any period of potential corrective action that may apply when determining the most appropriate time to apply to renew your certificate.