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Following on from recent articles I thought it would be a good idea to provide a roundup of common reductions seen in assessments received back from the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) and how to avoid them to ensure you maximise your costs recoveries.

This article will be of interest to professional deputies and/or those assisting a professional deputy and those who work in the Court of Protection areas of law.

Here is a summary of the most common reductions seen in assessed bills received back from the SCCO. I have also provided a few examples of the same to take on board.

Time claimed considered to be excessive, duplicative, non-progressive or an overhead of the firm. The time can be reduced or disallowed. Examples of works, which relate to reductions are reconciliations to provide updated cashflows or budgets.  It is common for the costs officer to look at the fee earners undertaking this work and further reductions might be made if it looks like two or more fee earners are undertaking the same work.  Top tip here is to carefully describe the work you are doing; the account being reviewed (as often more than one deputyship account is being managed) and how the work is beneficial to P.

Time reduced or disallowed for short enclosures, for example short emails in response to another party pursuant to Master O’Hare’s decision in Jamie Walker.  A copy of the email on file can be useful as this can be reviewed by your draftsman and a decision can be made as to whether a full 6-minute unit should be claimed or a short letter (timed at just 3 minutes).

Time claimed for payments at 6 minutes or above being reduced to a Grade D rate at 3 minutes each pursuant to the case of Conor Kirby and para. 3 (page 7) of the Professional Deputies Costs Guidance published by the OPG and SCCO. The most we have seen allowed for a payment is 3 minutes for routine payments.  You may wish to consider setting up a “Routine Payment” fee earner within your case management or time recording software, under which you can set their hourly rate to half that of a grade D fee earner (currently £126 for a grade D for National 1 and 2 firms, which would mean an hourly rate of £63.00).  This would mean that for each six-minute recorded, only £6.30 would be added to the WIP, meaning the entirety of this work would be recovered.

Time relating to the checking of invoices being reduced to a Grade D rate at 3 minutes each pursuant to the case of Jamie Walker as this should be taken into consideration when a payment is made.  The aforementioned costs guidance once again applies here.  It can be worthwhile considering if there are any elements of the payment that take it from a routine payment.  Examples might include payments being made in foreign currency (for which additional calculations are required) and/or substantial payments being made, for example a payment of tens of thousands of pounds made in relation to a contract sum.  Detailing the level of payment is useful for the Costs Officer (who assesses your bill) and helps to determine whether the time claimed is proportionate.

Time delegated to a lower grade fee earner where the Court considers the same to be appropriate. For example, a high-grade fee earner checking bank statements where this could be undertaken by a lower grade fee earner.  Be sure to stop and consider whether one of your more junior colleagues may be able to undertake this task at a cheaper rate and delegate accordingly, particularly if you are the deputy or a senior grade fee earner.

Time disallowed where two fee earners have claimed for the same attendance, therefore the time of only one fee earner has been allowed. Unless exceptional circumstances can be provided for the need for two fee earners at these attendances, it is likely the attendance of the primary fee earner only will be allowed. It is best to note the exceptional circumstances within your attendance note.  This will enable your costs draftsman to detail this information in a separate paragraph within the narrative/background within the bill of costs to maximise recovery.  However, it is worthwhile considering whether P has suffered any prejudice as a result of two or more fee earners attending a meeting.  For example, we see many cases where it is necessary for the deputy to attend P’s vacated property and obtain documents and details of P’s estate.  What might take one grade D fee earner four hours, would take two grade D fee earners two hours each.  Separate attendance notes should be provided by each fee earner in attendance, to demonstrate to the costs officer that no duplication has occurred.

Consideration time reduced for expenditure checks, where the consideration time is deemed as high or an overhead. The frequency of these items may have also been questioned.  Again, detail the work being undertaken, any issues arising and how such a review is helping to progress the management of P’s affairs.

Time for mandatory security checks, when making payments, are usually disallowed as these should be claimed as part of the payment.  This might also be considered as part of the overheads of running your practice.  This is, invariably, difficult to recover.

Time reduced for the review of bank statement as per the OPG Guidance and instruction of Master Haworth. The time usually claimed and accepted by the SCCO is 6 minutes per statement review.  However, if additional time is required, this should be detailed on your attendance note.  This helps to explain to the cost officer the nature of any issues arising and will enable your draftsman to provide full details and ensure the costs are recovered.

Attendance notes!  We always talk about them!  It is unlikely that the costs officer will have the time, or inclination to review each and every attendance note on the file and will not seek to reconcile each file note with each piece of work done.  However, if there is any doubt in the costs officer’s mind as to whether or not an item claimed in reasonable, they may turn to the file for further evidence of the work undertaken.  Attendance notes should be in chronological order to enable the costs officer to locate them easily and a clear, well written note will help to persuade the costs officer that the time claimed has been properly and accurately recorded and was reasonable.

To maximise the deputies’ recovery upon the bill of costs, we would advise you to note the above. Our main aim is to ensure we maximise your costs recoveries and the above will help us to help you.  This also assists the Court immeasurably.  Should you have any queries following this article, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.  Our friendly, yet professional team is always happy to assist.

Catherine Schlewitz,

Court Of Protection Costs Specialist

11 October 2023

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