With an increase to Hard Rejects on the horizon, it is vital for firms to ensure that all supporting documentation is accurate on submission of costs claims. There are a number of common issues that arise with regards to FAS forms and subsequent claims which we have noticed. At Kutter Walters part of our role to ensure that these issues are fixed prior to submission when we take the CCMS costs submission process out of your hands. However, in order to avoid additional administrative expenses and delays to payments, FAS forms should be completed accurately at the hearing.
As always, the Scope of the Certificate (type of work and date range in which the work can be done) should always be considered prior to undertaking any work under Legal Aid, including advocacy. Always check any non-claimable time between an Emergency and Substantive certificate and also that the date of the last work reported when discharging the Certificate is after work done.
Ensure that the Court is advised of delays in funding urgently so that, where possible, hearings can be rearranged. There is no argument later on costs assessment for urgent work to be claimable where this fell out of Scope on the certificate at the time it was done.
Date of hearing entered incorrectly:
Ensure the dates of any hearings are entered correctly and match the FAS forms. Incorrect keyed dates on CCMS will be rejected if it is not clearly explained or does not match evidence.
Do also check the Judge’s signature date on the form is accurate at the hearing. Whilst this is a rare problem, we have seen this arise on occasion – much easier problem to fix at the time rather than months later on assessment.
Enter the certificate reference accurately onto the FAS forms:
This should be input on a few forms kept in the files at the outset, so that the Fee Earner has these to hand at the hearings and is not trying to remember these details at Court.
Correct Level of Judge claimed:
It is the level of Judge for the hearing that is relevant under the FAS scheme, not the Court in which the proceedings are held. It is important to ensure this is accurate as this determines the level of fees claimable. The Judge should confirm this with her/his signature on the form.
Court Bundles claimed on Interim Hearings:
In public law children cases, Court Bundles may be claimed for up to two Interim Hearings and each of these must either be a Case Management Conference, an IRH or otherwise a hearing that is listed for the hearing of contested evidence.
Where it becomes unclear whether Counsel or the Solicitor Advocate are claiming these, the firm often loses out as Counsel makes their FAS claim first on CCMS. Whilst inputting additional bundles on the FAS forms won’t result in a reject provided the accurate number are eventually claimed, firms should ensure that they have an agreement in place with Counsel as to who will be claiming these.
Hearing Units claimed:
The FAS form will include all time in the hearing, with lunch time also allocated separately on the form. Lunch is not included when converting this time into to Hearing Units claimable. Advocates Meetings and discussions at Court outside of the Court room are not claimable under FAS. Where these are held on the same day as a Final Hearing, these will not be claimable as the Final Hearing Unit accounts for the whole day.
In both Private Law and Public Law proceedings, Bolt-On Payments should be ticked appropriately on the forms to ensure that profits are maximised under the FAS scheme. However, it is important to know the criteria for these prior to attending the Hearing.
If there are allegations of significant harm to a child against your client, these must be live allegations at the time of the hearing. Therefore, this Bolt-On may be relevant at the start of the proceedings, but not after a Fact Finding Hearing which determines the issue.
Specific evidence is required for claiming the Bolt-On in Public Law proceedings for representation of a client who has difficulty giving instructions or understanding advice.
Know the criteria for these prior to ticking these.
Where a hearing contains significant work on two different aspects of FAS, the Advocate may opt which category to claim under (but may not claim both).
Where a hearing deals with FAS and non-FAS work, e.g. Care and Wardship proceedings, if there is significant non-FAS work the LAA expect hourly rates to be claimed and may request evidence that the excluded work was not a significant part of the hearing. Where uncertain, we advise clients to ensure that both the FAS form and Court attendance notes are completed at the time.
Court Order required as evidence when claiming FAS for IRH settlement:
Where a matter settles at an IRH, a Final Hearing Unit is claimable. However, the LAA will need site of this order and this should be uploaded with the FAS form when submitting supporting documentation. Providing the Outcomes on discharge is not enough to justify the claim made.
Travel to Hearings:
The Fee Earner’s travel time and expenses are dealt with separately:
Travel expenses should be claimed in the usual way, with supporting evidence.
Travel time under FAS is either claimable as an exceptional travel Bolt-On (must be over 25 miles each way to the Hearing) or not claimable.