On 30 September 2020, a judgment was handed down by Master Whalan following a hearing in the matter of PLK and Others on 26 May 2020.
This case was brought by a number of professional Deputies, to bring the issue as to the guideline hourly rates not being altered for 10 years, despite factors such as inflation and an ever increasing workload raising questions as to the sustainability of Court of Protection work for many practitioners. The Costs Team at Clarion prepared the four bills of costs concerned, in which rates with an uplift of approximately 31% of the guideline rates were claimed, to reflect RPI inflation.
The outcome of this hearing was that ‘if the hourly rates claimed fall within approximately 120% of the 2010 GHR, then they should be regarded as being prima facie reasonable’. Master Whalan summarised that the new rates could be applied to all outstanding assessments, irrespective of the year in which the work was undertaken.
Since then, the SCCO have released further guidance by way of a Practise Note. The main points to note from this are:
- The uplifted rates can be applied only to work undertaken in 2018 or after, and that the judgment does not disapply the indemnity principle. As a result, where a retainer letter limits the hourly rates for conducting fee earners specifically to the 2010 guideline rates, the Costs Officers will not allow firms to claim for the uplifted rates.
- Deputies cannot withdraw or amend bills already submitted without further authority from the Court.
- Deputies can make an informal request for reassessment, however that if this is done for the sole purpose of seeking the uplifted rates, that the request for reconsideration will likely be unsuccessful
- Deputies should take into account their terms of business and OPG105 estimate when considering applying the new rates, as the Costs Officer’s will keep these under consideration when conducting assessments
Since the judgment was handed down, we have applied the uplifted rates to the majority of bills prepared on behalf of our clients, however have recently received a number of assessments back from the SCCO, whereby the rates claimed have been reduced back to the 2010 guideline rates on each occasion. The Costs Officer has stated on these bills that ‘the Deputy under the indemnity principle could not expect to apply new rates to old work’, and that ‘the Solicitor cannot expect to apply new rates to old work that they did not expect to achieve when doing the work’.
The comments of the SCCO are extremely frustrating for deputies who are not breaching the indemnity principle when claiming the higher rates. We recommend that if your costs are limited on assessment to the 2010 rates for retrospective claims for costs, that you submit your retainer letter and terms of business for the attention of the Costs Officer to support that you are entitled to recover rates in excess of the old 2010 rates.
The view of the Costs Officers is contradictory to the judgment and deputies should work with their costs provider to try to recover the higher rates where there is no breach of the indemnity principle.
Ella Wilkinson is a Legal Apprentice in the Costs & Litigation Funding Team at Clarion. You can contact her on 0113 288 5693, or by email to email@example.com