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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Recognising Excellence?

Recognising Excellence has been appointed as the national auditing body by the Legal Aid Agency to conduct SQM audits across England and Wales.

RE will take over delivery of the audit function from the incumbent, The SQM Delivery Partnership from 1st April 2017.

Who will be carrying out my audit?

Recognising Excellence is currently recruiting experienced Auditors to deliver the SQM audit function on our behalf. Only those successfully approved and appointed by RE who complete a programme of training, including a competency assessment, will be able to conduct SQM audits beyond 1st April 2017.

How are the transition arrangements being managed between SQM Delivery Partnership and Recognising Excellence?

All audit activity from 1st April will be co-ordinated and managed by Recognising Excellence. Data of current SQM holders will be provided to Recognising Excellence who will be in contact with you to proactively manage the process of renewing your SQM certificate. Our help desk is now open and we are now able to start to schedule audit activity due after 1st April 2017.

How much will the SQM audit cost?

Please refer to the pricing guidance on the How to Apply for an Audit page of our website

How do I apply for my audit?

Please complete the application form, paying particular attention to the supporting Application Guidance on the How to Apply for an Audit page of our website. Completed application forms should be submitted to sqm@recognisingexcellence.co.uk and our help desk will then be in touch to confirm receipt and discuss your application in further detail.

I have lost my current certificate confirming accreditation and require a copy?

During this transition period, the Legal Aid Agency will take responsibility for issuing replacement certificates to SQM accredited holders. Please email your details to sqm@recognisingexcellence.co.uk and we will share your request with the LAA.

What changes have been made to the SQM Standard as a result of the change of provider?

The SQM Standard has not been changed. The LAA are confident that the level the standard is pitched at is appropriate, and provides effective quality assurance. The SQM will continue to provide assurance regarding the processes and procedures in place at a provider.

The award of the SQM will continue with the firm wide approach of the current contract, but with an increase in the requirements for file reviews, interviews and office visits at the Pre-QM stage. Award of the SQM will also now happen at this stage, before going into a 3 year audit cycle.

You can access a full copy of the SQM Standard and supporting guidance from our How to Apply for an Audit page of the website.

My firm holds SQM and Lexcel. Which do I need for my legal aid contract?

The simple answer is either. The choice is entirely yours. The LAA have accepted Lexcel as an acceptable alternative to the SQM and either can be used as evidence of compliance with the requirements of your legal aid contract.

What is the difference between a Desktop Audit and Pre Quality Mark Audit?

The desktop audit is a remote, off site activity which seeks to evidence of alignment against the requirements of the SQM through your written policies and procedures. We will require that these written policies are provided as part of your application for the Desktop Audit, and the full list of those required is identified within our Audit Preparation guide.

For the Pre Quality Mark audit, our Auditor will visit your premises and will seek to ensure effective implementation of the written policies and procedures, which will include reviewing a sample of your open and closed case files.

What will happen during the on-site audit?

The site visit seeks to determine the effective implementation of your written policies and procedures. This will be completed via a series of activities including speaking with a sample of your workforce, reviewing a sample of both open and closed client case files, and reviewing your central records. The on-site audit will be an interactive process and your Quality Representative will be kept informed of emerging trends/issues during the course of the site visit.

Is it necessary for clients to have provided appropriate consent prior to the SQM Auditor reviewing their file?

If the SQM audit is extending to private clients as well as those matters funded by Legal Aid, then yes, client consent for a third party to access their personal data will be required. If the audit is restricted to legal aid matters only, then no specific client consent is required as it would be deemed that the LAA own those files, and the Auditor is acting as their agent.

What will the Auditor be checking when they look at client case files?

Your Auditor will be considering client care principles as part of the file review process and will be supported by a comprehensive checklist. A copy of this checklist is contained with our Audit Preparation Guide, which is available on the How to Apply for an Audit page of our website.

Who will be in scope for the SQM Audit?

If your audit application is restricted to just your legal aid work, we would include anyone that comes into contact with a legally aided client. This will include reception and support staff as well as fee earners/supervisors.

If your audit application relates to both legal aid and private work, all individuals involved in providing the service will be included as part of the audit process.

How long is the SQM accreditation valid for?

The SQM is awarded following the successful completion of any corrective action that may have been deemed necessary from your site audit. Once awarded, the certificate will be valid for a period of three years. You will be required to ensure that any re audit is scheduled and confirmed with Recognising Excellence prior to the expiry of your current certificate of accreditation.

Can I appeal a decision following my audit?

Our Appeals policy and process is available for download via our How to Apply for an Audit page on the website.

How do I make a complaint?

Our Complaints policy and process is available for download via our How to Apply for an Audit page on the website.