Can you recover your costs for time spent delegating in COP cases?

My talented colleague, Helen Spalding recently wrote a blog about the decision in  Fuseon Ltd, R. This costs claim arose from a private prosecution by Fuseon Ltd, a Lancashire based letting agency, against a Director of the business who had committed fraud and theft of over £100,000 relating to tenancy deposits, personal expenses and false invoices. You may be thinking, what does this have to do with Court of Protection costs?

In the decision, Master Gordon-Saker touched on inter-fee earner discussions and duplication. Detailed guidance was provided in respect of what is and is not recoverable in this regard in paragraphs 42 through 44. Master Gordon-Saker confirmed that reasonable time spent in inter-fee earner discussions is properly allowable. It is difficult to delegate tasks to junior fee earners without instructing them what to do and the reasonable time of the delegator and delegate is usually now considered to be recoverable.

Whilst this is not a COP case, this clearly shows that reasonable time spent delegating is not only expected, but should be recovered. So why does this not happen consistently in COP cases?

The Senior Courts Costs Office rely on the decision in Tina Jayne Cloughton (1999) and regularly note this on assessments to reduce or disallow time spent delegating, but it is unclear why a 21 year old decision is quoted, when we have new case law which clearly contradicts it.

There are many historic cases which are regularly referred to in COP assessments which are arguably outdated and no longer applicable. There is increasing frustration amongst professional deputies because COP work is still considered more routine than other areas of law, despite the significant responsibilities personally placed on deputies and the niche, complex and important issues which are dealt with every day. Delegation is particularly relevant to COP cases because most work is expected to be undertaken by Grade D and C fee earners, but how can that be achieved without some input, guidance and delegation from senior fee earners, who bear the responsibility and authority?

We hope that the message in the recent decision in Fuseon Ltd, R. will filter through to COP cases, and we will continue to recommend that reasonable time spent delegating complex work and communicating with colleagues is claimed within the bill of costs.

If you would like to know more, please contact stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 3363402.

 

 

 

 

Lockdown Lowdown – Russell Caller

This blog forms part of a series of weekly interviews with several professionals during lockdown. It aims to inform Deputies and their teams about how each organisation within the field of Court of Protection has adapted to Covid-19 and what they should be aware of. Our fourth participant for Lockdown Lowdown is Russell Caller who is a Director of the Professional Deputies Forum (the PDF), and a professional deputy himself at Gillhams Solicitors in London.

It’s been over a year now since the PDF’s formation. What has happened in that year for the PDF?

A lot! We launched last March (2019) in Leeds at the offices of Clarion and we are very grateful to Clarion for sponsoring that event which “got us off the ground”. In the last year, we have gained the ear of the Office of the Public Guardian, the Ministry of Justice, the Senior Courts Costs Office, the Official Solicitor and the Court of Protection. As we speak, we are about to go to court in the SCCO to hopefully achieve some sort of increase in rates, in addition to pushing a review of the Guidance Rates at the end of the year. We are also taking a leading role in the discussion on the recent decision of ACC & Others.

How many members does the PDF now have?

We currently represent over 5,300 solicitor professional deputy appointments. There are only 9000 in total, so the PDF represents the majority of such appointments.

What are the benefits of membership?

There are 6 key benefits:

  1. Representation for Deputies to give them a voice. That is our unique selling point, as this is the first time ever that Professional Deputies are represented.
  2. There are inequities in the COP system and there are some structural issues that need reviewing in the current regulatory scheme. In our view, not all the stakeholders are “singing off the same hymn sheet” and it is important that this is addressed. The stakeholders (OPG, SCCO, MOJ, etc.) have developed over time but there needs to be consistency between what each stakeholder is asking for from professional deputies, otherwise the system doesn’t work. We are trying to set up a meeting with all stakeholders to discuss the areas which need looking at, in the hope that we can address this collectively and have a more joined up approach.
  3. We are fighting for sustainability of the whole professional deputyship system. We are “tottering on the edge” as we cannot afford to pay paralegals their true value.  Some Law firms are saying it is uneconomic to have COP departments and that means a reduction in the service being offered. If the professional deputyship service is to continue in England and Wales, we need to tackle these fundamental issues and the PDF is pushing hard for that.
  4. We are putting the solicitor professional deputy at the heart of the discussion for the first time ever. We are in discussion with all the main stakeholders.
  5. We have a resource section on our website for all members.
  6. We listen to our members and act on their views!

How can the PDF help professional Deputies and why is it key to be involved?

It is essential to be involved for all the reasons set out in the answer to the previous question. We are and will be taken seriously by the COP stakeholders and that is precisely what is happening. The PDF is a catalyst for change. We are very focused – our message is very clear- we are here to represent and protect the Solicitor professional deputy. Firstly, we need to make the system sustainable. Simply put, the greater the membership of the PDF, the more the stakeholders engage with us- they have little option to but to engage and listen to us and respond appropriately.

Do you have any concerns for professional Deputies caused by COVID-19?

Very much so! Deputies cannot gain access to Care Homes to visit the vulnerable, they have difficulty in reaching social services, doctors and other professionals as easily and cannot get things done quickly enough! My other worry is that law firms have had to furlough members of staff too, so the number of support staff has been hit, who deputy teams rely heavily on.

What are the PDF’s objectives for 2020/21?

We have several objectives which tie nicely into the benefits of being a member (see above). We want to improve the relationship between the OPG and solicitor professional deputies and challenge some of the ills of the current regulatory scheme. For example, review the OPG professional standards and how these can be achieved by deputies, without being  financially penalised for meeting the criteria. We also want to open a dialogue with the COP to improve how it is run, including a dialogue with court staff and with the judges. Where appropriate, we want to challenge MOJ policy in the deputyship world to improve and provide clarity for all deputies in the system.

Following the case of ACC & Others earlier this year, we want to make further representation on behalf of deputies to address the many unintended consequences of this case. This includes engaging with other organisations within the COP world to discuss the correct approach to the court.

We also want to achieve a pay increase for solicitor professional deputies, which will provide financial sustainability and a clear career path for younger and junior professionals practicing in this area.

We are always looking for feedback from our members and others who work in the COP profession. We are a young organisation and we know that we will make mistakes, so if anyone has some good feedback on what we do well and what we don’t do so well, we would really like to hear that so we can continue to develop.

What do you think the future holds for professional Deputies?

It is very difficult to say. Unless and until being a solicitor professional deputy becomes financially sustainable, the future is not good. We need to tackle this head on, which is what we are doing at this very minute! As I mentioned previously, we have a case being heard in the SCCO  this coming week in respect of rates of pay for solicitor professional deputies, which we hope will provide some certainty in this area, then we can start to address the inequities in the system.

How has the PDF adapted to lockdown?

One of the benefits of the PDF is that we have just 4 directors and we have a small working group, so decisions can be made easily which allows us to be “fleet of foot”. We very quickly launched our very popular “Fireside Chats” on Zoom and all the major stakeholders have come to be interviewed, which has been great! The use of Zoom and Teams has been a real advantage for the PDF, so we’re not complaining- we are firing on all cylinders!

How have you personally been keeping busy in lockdown?

I am becoming an expert in managing meetings and presentations through Zoom and Teams. I am learning new skills every day. I am Chair of a Shepherds Bush Housing Group and I now lead board meetings of up to 20 people, which isn’t easy, but I love to try new things and so I am sort of enjoying myself! I miss the fun and banter of physically being in an office, but this period has given me a lot of time to think about life and what I want from it.

What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

I have a passion for food! I love to eat out whenever I can and I think the best meal of the day is breakfast. Until the lockdown, the working group of the PDF used to meet in Central London at 8am for a breakfast meeting ( all paid for our of personal funds, I hasten to add!). It was great fun and I am really looking forward to getting back to those breakfast meetings! I have my first Grandchild due in September too, so I am especially looking forward to that.

Clarion would like to thank Russell for taking part in Lockdown Lowdown and would like to thank the PDF for their tireless efforts in trying to improve this area of practice. Coming up in the series, we will be hearing from Ria Baxendale from the OPG. If you would like to suggest another interviewee for Lockdown Lowdown, please contact Stephanie Kaye at stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 336 3402.

What Costs Are Reasonable for a Deputy? JR v Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust provides an explanation.

At a glance, the costs of a professional Deputy may seem expensive. However, the level of knowledge and work undertaken by a Deputy justifies these costs, especially in a case where the award was of substantial value. Once broken down, the costs of a Deputy are reasonable and can be justified.

Case summary

The Protected Party is a 24-year old with severe cerebral palsy. He suffered intracranial haemorrhage and brain injury following a traumatic premature birth and during a breech delivery. His litigation friend brought a clinical negligence claim on his behalf, arguing that the Protected Party’s injuries could have been avoided by a caesarean delivery. The Defendant accepted liability as the brain injury could have been avoided.

At the settlement hearing, some heads of loss had been agreed, but the costs of the professional deputy remained in dispute.

All parties accepted that the Protected Party lacked capacity to look after his own financial affairs, and predicted that this would be the case for the remainder of his life time. Therefore, a Professional Deputy was to be appointed; the cost of which continued to be argued.

It was deemed that although the Protected Party’s parents were supportive, it was not appropriate for them to administrate the Protected Party’s financial and property affairs. They had stated that they wanted to work alongside the Deputy, not against them. The Protected Party had some level of understanding and communication, so the Deputy was obliged to liaise directly with him.

What is considered reasonable for Deputyship costs?

For annual management

Year Claimant Costs Defendant Costs Award
1 30,605 plus cost of 2 visits 14,000 inclusive of 2 visits 30,000 inclusive of visits
2 21,492 plus cost of 2 visits 9,000 inclusive of 2 visits 20,000 inclusive of visits
3 17,040 plus cost of 1 visit 8,000 inclusive of 1 visit 15,000 inclusive of visits
4 17,040 plus cost of 1 visit 8,000 inclusive of 1 visit 15,000 inclusive of visits
5 onwards 11,232 plus cost of 1 visit 7,000 inclusive of 1 visit 10,000 inclusive of visits

The parties agreed that for extras such as transfers of Deputies, Wills, co-habitation or pre-nuptial agreements and “crisis payments”, a further £38,160.00 was reasonable.

The Judge allowed a total of £898,993.00.

This judgment can then be compared to the PNBA Facts & Figures 2017/18 (pages 258-288) whereby this outlines what could be classed as reasonable when awarding damages to cover the cost of the claimants Deputyship fees. Please refer to the table below.

Year and Expected Work to be Undertaken During the Deputyship Management Estimated Costs
Deputyship Application £6,638
1st Deputyship Year £32,570
2nd Deputyship Year £23,666
3rd Deputyship Year £19,775
Thereafter annual costs of £15,959 x 21.28 £339,607
Applications for appointment of new Deputy (x2) £7,588
Statutory Will Application £14,538
Contingency for crises £6,360
Preparation of tax returns £600 p.a x 24.28 £14,568
Winding up – single payment £1,800
 

 

Total Costs

 

 

£467,110.00

Finally, it’s noteworthy that all Deputyship costs are assessed by the Senior Courts Cost Office and the fee earners are regularly limited to the SCCO Guideline Hourly Rates whilst costs are awarded for Deputyship work, this is further scrutinised on assessment based on what is reasonable, proportionate and necessary in the Protected Party’s best interests.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Georgia Clarke or the team at COPCosts@clarionsolicitors.com

 

Unusual Granting of an Order to Prevent the Protected Party from knowing the full details of his Personal Injury Settlement following an application made by his Professional Deputy.

In this personal injury case, the judge had to grapple with an unexpected question – should a Deputy, appointed to manage the personal injury payment made to a brain-injured claimant, be allowed to not tell the claimant the exact amount that was awarded to him?

The case of EXB v FDZ

The case of EXB v FDZ (2018) was very unusual in that it involved an application by the Protected Party’s professional Deputy, and his mother as Litigation Friend, to prevent the Protected Party from knowing the full details of his personal injury settlement, which was deemed to be in his best interests.

This was a complex matter, as the Court recognised that withholding such information inadvertently affected the Protected Party’s rights. Judge Foskett explained in his judgement that he had never come across this issue before and he called upon assistance from Ms. Butler-Cole as a ‘friend of the Court’.

The Protected Party

The Protected Party sustained orthopaedic injuries, alongside a severe brain injury following a road traffic accident. The Protected Party was a backseat passenger in a car driven by the First Defendant. The Protected Party was not wearing a seatbelt and his damages were reduced accordingly, following an admission of contributory negligence.

Why was it in the best interests of the Protected Party to withhold settlement info?

The applicants submitted evidence from both themselves and professionals which detailed the reasons as to why it was in the Protected Party’s best interests to withhold the settlement information.

The Protected Party’s neuropsychologist stated that “Such knowledge would translate and impact upon his behaviour”. It was believed that the Protected Party would become fixated by the sum of money, that it would lead to him being extremely vulnerable and placed into a situation where he was likely to be financially exploited. Interestingly, the Protected Party himself expressed to his Deputy and the Court that he would be better off not knowing the sum; however, he also stated that he was conned into making such a statement. Following the accident, the Protected Party was very impulsive, and he often became very anxious when it came to money, struggling to budget and often living beyond his means.

The Judge gave careful consideration to the evidence submitted, as well as reviewing the relevant legislation, such as the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Following this, the Judge held that the Protected Party lacked the relevant decision-making capacity, finding that it was in the Protected Party’s best interests not to be told the value of the reward. The Judge also considered whether it was within the scope of a normal Deputy Order not to reveal the sum; however, the Deputy argued that it would make the Deputy’s life more difficult if the Protected Party believed that he was personally withholding the information and it was considered more appropriate for the Deputy to state that the Court prevented him from doing so.

Costs of the application

The next issue that arose was in respect of the costs of the application. The Claimant sought the costs of the application to be paid by the Third and Fourth Defendants of the Personal Injury claim, as their tort had necessitated. The Third and Fourth Defendants objected to paying the costs. Their defence stated that “they should not be responsible for the costs because all of the issues between them and the Claimant were concluded by the Settlement which was approved in April 2018” and that this particular issue was a ‘solicitor/own client’ dispute. Within the remit of the initial Personal Injury claim, there was no claim for costs attributable to this issue within the Schedule of Loss and there was also the fear that there may be an “open-ended commitment to pay the costs associated with any repeat applications”.

As the issue had been dealt with under the Court of Protection, it was necessary to apply the Court of Protection costs rules. The general rule being that where the issue concerns financial matters, the costs of all parties are to be borne from the Protected Party’s estate (Rule 19.2). The Court does have a broad discretion to depart from the general rule, if circumstances made a different order more appropriate (Rule 19.5). In this case, the Third and Fourth Defendants had not been made formal parties to the application, but they had been provided with an opportunity to make representations regarding the Costs Order being sought.

Judge Foskett held that the costs were to be borne by the relevant Defendants, as the need to make the application arose directly from their actions following the injury caused to the Protected Party, therefore departing from the general rule.

It will be interesting to see whether there will be any similar applications and what the outcomes will be. The Judge has invited the appropriate bodies to consider these matters and decide whether a consultation on this issue will be required.

This blog was prepared by Danielle Walker who is a Costs Lawyer within the Court of Protection Team. Danielle can be contacted at Danielle.walker@clarionsolicitors.com