The voluntary pilot for the use of electronic bills in the Court of Protection (COP E-Bills) ran from 1 November 2022 to 28 April 2023.
The new bill is in Microsoft Excel format and, whilst it appears very different to the Microsoft Word format bill we were all used to, it provides a number of advantages over its predecessor, both from the Deputy’s point of view, and that of the Costs Officer.
Perhaps most importantly, from the Deputy’s point of view, is that the E-Bill automatically recalculates the amount allowed on assessment, which saves a great deal of time, especially on larger bills. Any reductions to the bill are clearly highlighted in yellow, and there is a separate column for the Costs Officer to type their comments, meaning no more deciphering of handwriting is required! The Bill Summary and Final Costs Certificate are automatically populated with the correct figures, which also saves time.
From the Costs Officer’s point of view, the E-Bill provides more transparency, due to the requirement to set out the value of the Protected Party’s assets, as well as the OPG105 estimate for the period in question. It also provides a great deal of flexibility, as it allows the Costs Officer to filter the work down to whatever parameter they require, such as type of activity, fee earner or grade of fee earner. The summary pages also give a useful overview of the costs claimed and allowed by activity, by party, and by grade of fee earner, which may also assist some solicitor firms with their billing following assessment.
During the pilot, COP E-Bills were being assessed very quickly, with some bills being assessed within 6 to 8 weeks of e-filing. Presumably this was because the SCCO needed a sufficient number of electronic bills to see how it worked.
Now that the pilot has ended, it appears that the electronic bills are not being dealt with any earlier than paper bills, although the overall process is still slightly quicker, given that the assessed bills are returned immediately via email by the Costs Officer, rather than having to wait to be returned by the Admin Team. Furthermore, as stated above, time is also saved by not having to recalculate the amount allowed on assessment, or to complete the figures in the Bill Summary and Final Costs Certificate.
The pilot proved a success, with around 30-40% of Court of Protection bills received in electronic form, allowing the Costs Officers to assess a sufficient number to enable the SCCO to conclude that the use of bills in this format should continue. Minor changes to the electronic bill and the guidance notes are proposed, and these are currently with the Association of Costs Lawyers and the Professional Deputies Forum for their comments.