Our Head of Court of Protection shares the latest chatter from the Senior Courts Costs Office delivered by Master Haworth at the recent Headway Deputy conference.
Adrian Hawley, Head of Court of Protection, recently had a question from a new Court of Protection Deputy, wondering what goes off at the Senior Court Costs Office when General Management Costs are assessed by the Costs Officers.
We went through a recent presentation from Master Peter Haworth of the Senior Court Costs Office in order to answer this question.
Adrian had the opportunity to hear Master Haworth speak at the Headway Deputy Conference, held in partnership with the Office of the Public Guardian, in Manchester last month. The costs update provided from Master Haworth covered the background to SCCO assessments and current processes and systems.
Each year the number of requests for Deputy costs to be assessed has risen. In 2015 there were 15,943 assessments handled by the SCCO and of these 7333 were Court of Protection bills.
Master Haworth speculated as to why this 5% increase in assessments upon the previous year which included
- The streamlined procedure in the Court of Protection leading to more cases being heard outside London having a greater throughput of cases
- The increased awareness of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and participation by those persons lacking in capacity
- The ageing population leading to an increase in the number of Court of Protection bills due to the likelihood of loosing capacity.
Of those bills of costs there are no figures as to a breakdown of the types of work assessed suffice to say in the main these were for general management cases. Other types of bills include the application for a Deputy, gift applications and statutory wills.
The SCCO business of assessing bills of costs is handled by a dedicated staff of 8 Costs Officers. Junior Costs Officers deal with assessments up to bills with a value of £35,000.00. Those bills with a value up to £100,000.00 are handled by Senior or Principal Costs Officers. The Masters deal with costs over £100,000.00.
The costs office receives on average 140 bills of costs per week to be assessed. Usual turnaround is one to three weeks and the more substantial assessments are allotted to a specific date or week for Provisional assessment.
Following assessment by the Costs Officers the bill of costs is returned to the Deputy with comments made on the bills stating the reasons as to why a reduction has taken place. A notice of provisional assessment is presented to the Deputy. Should the Deputy wish to appeal against the assessment this can be done in writing within 14 days. Master Haworth tells us that in 95% of appeals the matter is resolved and a final costs certificate is issued. There is a right of appeal under CPR 47.21/22 for those cases that are not resolved.
Attention is drawn to the question of interested parties and we are reminded in CPD Part 47 paragraph 18.2 what is or not a financial interest.
Specific issues in Court of Protection matters were raised by Master Haworth with the main issue being the value of the estate of the Protected Party. In order to obtain a fair assessment, it is advised that a short summary setting out the background to the case with confirmation of the annual income of the Protected Party and their up to date assets held.
From now on, after being in existence for over a year, the OPG 105 completed the previous year should be attached with the bill of costs so the costs officer is aware of the previous costs estimate given to the OPG. What if the costs are more than 20% of the costs estimate given last year? Well a statement should be given in the narrative of the bill of costs to explain the reason. The most common reason is an event or change in the life of the Protected Party which has led to the increase in costs.
Overall the Costs Officers have practical experience of assessing thousands of bills every year covering all aspects of the work of the Court of Protection, whilst they may not have the practical experience of handling the affairs of the Protected Party, it does give them a huge insight on how these cases are handled. One apparent issue is the inclusion of welfare costs in general management work. The Costs Officers will take a pragmatic approach where welfare work overlaps with financial management of the affairs of the Protected Party and in these cases the narrative should note the implication of work undertaken. When purely welfare work is claimed without a specific order from the Court those costs will be disallowed and in exceptional cases an application should be made to cover welfare costs.
Master Haworth’s talk covered other issues of costs in the Court of Protection including proportionality, the Jackson reforms, hourly rates and case law. We’ll cover these issues in the coming months and during our training sessions we hold for clients.
To contact Adrian click here.