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As readers will no doubt be aware, there are currently extremely long delays with the assessment of bills of costs at the Senior Court Costs Office (SCCO).  Here, we take a look at the length of the current delays and provide some tips on how you can seek to mitigate the impact of these delays on that all-important cashflow.

This article will be of particular interest to professional deputies, and those assisting professional deputies during your day-to-day work.

The delays mean that there are two or even three cases open for one client at any one time, as it is taking at least sixteen months for the standard bills of under £35,000 in profit costs to be assessed.  The delays for bills between £35,000 and £100,000 are even longer, as these are allocated to one senior or principal costs officer.  We are probably looking at around 18 months of delay for these bills.

The position, as of 4 March 2024, was that the Costs Officers are currently being assigned bills of costs for which supporting papers were received around the end of April 2023, around 11 months.

The costs office has clarified that there will be some delay between the bill being assigned to the Costs officer and it being sent out by the administration team. Therefore, whilst it is likely that bills of costs pre-dating the end of April 2023 have been assessed, they may not have reached their despatch stage and may still be awaiting processing by the administration team.

The administration team is currently sending out assessed bills returned to them by the Costs Officers during the first week of March 2024. The costs office does not have control over delivery times following despatch.

In terms of e-filings that have been submitted, but not yet accepted or rejected, the SCCO are currently working on new bill filings submitted around the second week of November 2023 and certificates submitted during the fourth week of February 2024.  Essentially this means it is taking almost four months for the SCCO to either accept or reject a bill for assessment, which is further compounding these delays.

The SCCO are politely requesting that for them to be able to maximise the time spent working to reduce the backlog, that enquiries are not made about the progress of the following:

  • Any bills for which supporting paperwork was submitted from the end of April 2023 onwards.
  • Any e-filing not yet accepted/rejected that was submitted during or after the second week of November 2023.
  • Final Costs Certificates where less than two weeks have passed since receipt of confirmation of acceptance.

The SCCO has put in place measures to hopefully improve the situation in the longer-term but has requested continuing assistance in restricting queries to urgent matters to enable the costs office to deal with the bills as efficiently as possible.

In the meantime, deputies can maximise their costs by ensuring that they take full advantage of Practice Direction 19B (PD 19B) – Fixed costs in the court of protection ( in relation to interim billing and payments on account.

For ease of reference, please see below extract of PD 19B:

Payments on account

  1. Where professional deputies elect for detailed assessment of annual management charges, they may take payments on account for the first three quarters of the year, which are proportionate and reasonable taking into account the size of the estate and the functions they have performed. Interim quarterly bills must not exceed 25% of the estimated annual management charges – that is up to 75 for the whole year.

Interim bills of account must not be submitted to the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO). At the end of the annual management year, the deputy must submit their annual bill to the SCCO for detailed assessment and adjust the final total due to reflect payments on account already received.

Fixed Costs

Don’t forget, you are also entitled to take fixed costs for the following: –

Applications – up to £950 plus VAT

Year 1 general management work – up to £1,670 plus VAT

Years 2 and onward general work – up to £1,320 plus VAT

Annual deputyship reports – £265 plus VAT

“Basic” tax return – £250 plus VAT

“Complex” tax return – £600 plus VAT

You can also take up to £500 plus VAT if making an application under the Trustee Act 1925.

These fixed costs entitlements are modest and have been in place since 2017.  However, it is worth remembering they are in place, as this will avoid the delay of assessment detailed above.  We appreciate that for many fixed cases, fixed costs will not be appropriate.

What can I do to mitigate delays?

Here are our top five tips to help mitigate delays and maximise cashflow when waiting for assessment: –

  1. Make sure you take full advantage of Practice Direction 19B and the provisions therein; be sure to raise quarterly interim invoices in line with your annual estimated costs and be sure to review and update these estimates regularly.
  2. Make a note of when your billing year concludes. We always recommend the billing dates line up with the OPG reporting dates, which assists with estimates of costs.  As soon as you are able, get your file over to your costs draftsman and instruct them to prepare the bill as soon as possible.  At A & M, we are able to remind our regular clients of when this arises to further assist with this.
  3. Ensure you use a reputable costs draftsman! For example, mistakes in the E-bill can lead to further delays of up to four months, if a bill is rejected due to their being an item placed in the incorrect section of the bill.  At A & M, we undertake rigorous checks to ensure such errors do not arise.
  4. Check with your costs draftsman their turnaround times for preparing the bill. This can help with planning and budgeting, particularly if their lead in times is longer.  At A & M, our aim is to get your draft bill to you within 15 working days, again so as to minimise these delays.
  5. Ensure you review and sign off your bill in good time and provide your draftsman with any further documents required. This enables you or your costs provider to request the assessment as quickly as possible.  We work with a number of clients where we assist with the whole assessment process, again with the aim being to reduce the time it takes for your bill to be assessed.

As ever, we do hope the above article has been of interest and provided a useful insight into the current position down at the SCCO.  Do feel free to get in touch with us should any queries arise from this article.  Our professional, yet friendly team are always on hand to assist.


Amanda Barnett, Court of Protection Specialist


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