When the lockdown was first introduced, we had no idea how this was going to affect the assessment of Court of Protection Bills by the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO). However, they have found ways to adapt, as we all have. They have staff working from home and a team in the office on a rota basis. All 8 Costs Officers are working, either remotely or in the office, and the timely introduction of the e-filing system in January has meant that documents can be accessed much more easily.
In our experience, Bills are currently being accepted approximately 2 weeks after being submitted online. Only 50% of the administration team are in the office at any one time due to social distancing measures, therefore this is causing a delay in the processing of the e-filing.
It is still necessary to send the hard copy of the file of papers to the SCCO, although they have extended the timescale for doing so from 5 days following acceptance of the e-filing, to 28 days, which has helped a great deal, considering that many of us are only going into the office on a sporadic basis. Once they have received the file of papers, the Costs Officers are currently assessing the Bills in just over a month, which is fantastic, given the circumstances.
Applications for Final Costs Certificates are being prioritised at the moment above the assessments in order to assist solicitors’ cash flow, and these are generally dealt with within a week or two.
The SCCO are still available by telephone and email to deal with queries, though it may take a little longer to receive a response as a result of there being fewer people in the office.
All in all, the SCCO appear to have adapted extremely well to the lockdown, and solicitors should be confident their assessment will be dealt with as promptly as possible.
Julie Fitzpatrick, Costs Lawyer & Head of Private Client Department
Direct Dial: 01228 815395
Email: [email protected]