Events Based Case Plans – Hubble Bubble (Toil and Trouble)?
I recently took my dad to see ‘The Manfreds’ (Manfred Mann without Manfred Mann) in concert. I think I was the youngest person there by at least 15-20 years. That, unfortunately, doesn’t make me a young whippersnapper. I am still old, certainly old enough to have been in the field of Legal Aid costing long enough to remember a time when the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) – Legal Aid Board/Community Legal Service/Legal Services Commission - used to increase its hourly rates.
Ha! Ha! Said the Clown - the LAA only ever decrease the hourly rates, usually by 10%. That might be the case in recent history but go back to April 2001 and the LAA actually increased the family Legal Aid rates by 10%. And that was after they’d already increased the rates in April 1996. Shock, horror. Today, of course, the reductions and regulations introduced by the LAA, along with CCMS, are enough to make you go Do Wah Diddy Diddy.
Very High Costs cases
Despite the current low legal aid hourly rates, there are some cases considered complex and convoluted enough to receive Very High Costs Case (VHCC) status from the LAA. These tend to be cases where costs predictions are £25,000+ or where the instruction of Queen’s Counsel is warranted. VHCC Plans are agreed with the VHCC (Family) Team in South Tyneside for all family matters. The exceptions are child abduction, TOLATA proceedings and forced marriage cases, which are handled by the Exceptional and Complex Case Team (ECCT) in London. All non-family VHCC Plans are dealt with by the ECCT in Brighton.
Registering the VHCC with the LAA
When you have Got My Mojo Working and consider the costs of a matter will exceed £25,000 to trial, it is time to register the VHCC with the LAA. You must register the case via email/letter, the Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) or telephone. If you use The One In The Middle(CCMS) you register by submitting a CCMS case enquiry, attached to the certificate service request, within the client’s personal CCMS file (this is not a billing enquiry). The LAA will set up a case plan request task to enable you to upload the case plan for approval.
Events based case plans and the VHCC
There are two types of case plan available for a VHCC: hourly rates or events based, the latter of which we will focus on here. Events based case plans are mandatory under the Care Case Fee Scheme (CCFS) for all Section 31 Care and Supervision cases registered as VHCC after 1st October 2015. The only exception to this is where matters are considered to exceed events by 30% if the matter were claimed at hourly rates. However, the Poison Ivy aspect of this is that an application for exceptionality must be made when registering the case as VHCC - and justification must be provided to show exceptionality when registering. If a care case is not registered as exceptional (due to the costs at hourly rates exceeding 30% above the amount of events) then Come Tomorrow you will be limited to events.
If You Gotta Go, Go Now because a 4 week time limit is imposed from the date of registration for the submission of any hourly rates case plan and any Queen’s Counsel/2 Counsel case plan (events or hourly rate). Under CCFS if the case is continually progressing and the file of papers cannot be released for a case plan, Oh No Not My Baby, then fear not. There is no deadline for submitting a CCFS case plan and these can be prepared up to three months after the case has concluded. The main benefit of submitting an interim CCFS case plan before the case has concluded is that it will be dealt with under the Final Assessment Streamlining Tool (FAST) (if registered after 1st December 2016). This requires no supporting documents to be submitted with the case plan and once a contract is agreed solicitors are entitled in 5-4-3-2-1 to payments on account of 100% of events that have taken place.
Semi-Detached, Suburban Mr James asks ‘What are events?’ – for solicitors, events are any hearing day and any advocates meeting ordered by the court. Only one event can be claimed per day, whether a representative personally attends or not. Counsel can also claim for a limited number of conferences but must attend to claim any event. Counsel is paid FAS under CCFS until the number of main hearing days (inclusive of Fact Finding hearing days) exceeds 10 when their claims are also converted to events.
Process and adjustments
Case plans are agreed on the basis of the current known listing at the date of registration as a VHCC. The case plan can be increased/decreased as the case progresses. If a main hearing under or overruns, the event price is adjusted appropriately, provided the changes to listing are made with less than 7 days’ notice. If a case is re-listed with at least 1 weeks’ notice then that becomes the current known listing and the case plan can be amended accordingly. There are also special events for written submissions and Judge’s reading days. If an Appeal takes place a short hourly rates addendum case plan can be attached to the events plan.
There’s No Living Without Your Loving – the agreed final CCFS case plan becomes the schedule that can be used for final payment from the LAA once the same has been signed and certified. The relevant documentation in support of the case plan (court orders, vouchers, fee notes etc) is also submitted at the conclusion of the case. The LAA will pay for all actual events and assess the disbursements claimed.
The Ragamuffin Man will consider events based case plans to be just another way the LAA can reduce the costs of the case and limit the amount that can be recovered. However, CCFS case plans can be the LAA’s Pretty Flamingo. The benefits include being paid for events without actually having to attend court. For example, if the case is listed for a 25 day Fact Finding hearing, 25 events are paid without anybody attending behind Counsel leaving fee earners to be able to do five weeks of work on other cases. Interim CCFS case plans can be agreed without supporting evidence under FAST and payments on account are made at 100% of events to date. 10 events can pay you in excess of £7000 profit costs on cases that would normally attract the fixed fee. In fixed fee care cases you are only paid hourly rates if costs exceed twice the fixed fee (or are in excess of 100% over the fixed fee). Under CCFS you can claim hourly rates if costs exceed only 30% over the amount at events.
Events based case plans are just an alternate Pricing and Funding option to the usual hourly rates claims and can be worked to be beneficial and profitable once the current listing is known.
The LAA You Gave Me Somebody To Love and that somebody is CCFS events based case plans.
This article was written by Allistair Lang who joined Jennings in 1998, having obtained a degree in mathematics and successfully completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in education. Allistair is a Costs Lawyer and has for some years played a pivotal role in Jennings’ training programme. He has considerable technical knowledge and in-depth understanding of all publicly funded matters and ensures that all personnel are aware of the latest developments in this area.
Allistair has particular interest in private and public family law matters, judicial review, housing and was lead manager when the CCMS pilot scheme started in the North East and has continued to ensure that the organisation is fully appraised of all of the CCMS developments in relation to costs claims.