OPG and SCCO Work Together to More Closely Monitor Legal Costs
During 2016 a number of changes have been made to enable better monitoring of the fees charged by Professional Deputies. This comes in the form of guidance jointly issued by the SCCO and OPG. The idea behind this is to introduce more effective protection for clients/patients’ interests and more accurate monitoring of fees charged, as well as gaining insight into how financial affairs are managed by a Deputy.
A helpful practice guidance note published in July 2016 which summarises the changes can be found here.
Form OPG105 – an estimate of costs
Since March 2016, the new form OPG 105 must be filed along with the annual deputyship report. This form is an estimate of costs for the following year - similar to a budget or case plan -, which is intended to forecast the likely legal costs for the Protected Party’s fund in the 12 months ahead.
The information required for the form will differ, depending on whether costs are likely to be fixed or assessed. Those who intend to claim only fixed costs simply need to tick the box indicating fixed costs will be taken. Those who anticipate taking assessed costs will need to provide an accurate indication of future costs, including a breakdown of how that time will be divided between family/friends, case managers and care providers, other parties and work on documents.
The guidance jointly issued by the SCCO and OPG suggests that the form should take around 30mins to complete - this is also a good indication of the time that will likely be allowed on assessment of costs in relation to this item of work.
When a claim for assessed costs is lodged with the SCCO, a copy of OPG105 should be included with the Bill of Costs. It’s worth noting that the content of the estimate is not binding but if a Bill of Costs exceeds the estimate by 20% or more then there will also need to be an explanation for the overspend attached to the Bill.
If there are any significant changes to a case that impact on costs it’s important that the Deputy alerts the OPG as soon as possible. Copies of the correspondence relating to these changes should be enclosed when submitting the Bill of Costs to the SCCO for assessment.
Our advice – in 4 simple steps
1. Be concise but detailed
When completing the “More information” section of the form, use the box to detail any assumptions made about future conduct. You should also highlight here any potential issues that could give rise to an increase in costs.
2. Make sure you include all the paperwork
The last OPG105, and any correspondence with the OPG about variations to it, should be included with instructions to costs draftsmen.
3. Costs draftsmen should have input.
This applies both when preparing Bills – good costs draftsmen should draw attention to matters where the estimate has been exceeded by 20% or more – and to any overspend. Draftsmen should be able to input into the explanation for any significant change from the previous estimate that will need to go to the SCCO.
4. Introduce a simple costs review procedure.
Professional Deputies should include or modify file review procedures to ensure that incurred costs are carefully monitored against estimates provided to the OPG. A simple costs review procedure would ensure that steps could be taken to contact the OPG at the earliest stage and any discrepancy between the estimate and incurred costs could be justified fairly swiftly.
Other issues to bear in mind
The SCCO has provided a useful reminder about its approach to assessment of general management costs, identifying some of the key areas where reductions can be made to costs claimed. The three key areas are:
- Guideline rates. Hourly rates are likely to be limited to SCCO Guideline rates, other than in exceptional circumstances – Bills should always include an explanation in support of hourly rates that differ from the Guideline rates
- Delegating. Professional Deputies should delegate to reduce costs and increase efficiency and justification needs to be given where this has not happened
- Paying bills. 3 mins will be the standard allowance for paying bills, whatever method is used
The impact of these three areas can be significant where Deputies are looking to claim private client charging rates and work has been carried out by senior fee earners but could have been completed by a more junior fee earner.
Burcher Jennings are proud to be supporting Headway, the brain injury association. Headway has teamed with the OPG to deliver a conference for deputies in Manchester on 13 October 2016. Further details can be found here.
This article has been written by Michelle Barron who is a Costs Lawyer and Head of Operations based at the Carlisle office.
Burcher Jennings, as well as providing traditional costs drafting services, also provides pricing and funding solutions for Solicitors.