Challenging Your Solicitor's Bill

If you think you’ve been charged too much by your solicitor, you can challenge their bill. You should either challenge it directly with your solicitor, by asking them to commence detailed assessment proceedings, or failing that, by asking the Senior Courts Costs Office to make a detailed assessment of the bill. If they find it is unreasonable they will reduce it. However, we would strongly advise you to try to come to some kind of agreement with your solicitor, before requesting detailed assessment of the bill, as the process is not only time sensitive, but comes with additional expense in the form of court fees and possible extra costs if you lose.

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How To Apply For Detailed Assessment?

Timeframes To Apply For Detailed Assessment

The first step in the process is applying to the court to notify them and your solicitor of your intention to begin detailed assessment proceedings. You need to do this within one month of receiving your solicitor’s bill to have an absolute entitlement to have the bill assessed.

Applications after 1 month and within a year are discretionary provided the bill has not been paid. However, the court might ask you to pay part or all of the bill upfront. If the judge decides you have overpaid, you’ll be given the excess back once the assessment is completed.

After a year, or where the bill has been paid, the court will only assess the bill in special circumstances - the Guidance from the Senior Court Costs Office gives examples of these as follows:

  • Justifiable delay
  • Payment under pressure
  • Payment under protest
  • Gross overcharging by the solicitors

Process Of Applying For Detailed Assessment Of Costs

Step One - Apply For Detailed Assessment Of Costs

You will need to download and fill in 3 copies of Part 8 claim form (N208). Next you need to send all 3 forms, plus a £45 application fee and a copy of your solicitor’s bill, to the Senior Courts Costs Office, if living in London, or to your local District Registry if living outside London. If your original case was dealt with by a county court and your solicitor’s bill is for £5,000 or less, you can apply to your nearest county court.

The court will stamp them with an issue date, keep one copy of your claim form and send one copy back to you and the other one to your solicitor.

Your solicitor will then confirm they have received it by sending you an ‘acknowledgement of service’. If they don’t think you should have a detailed assessment of their bill, you will be asked by the court to attend a hearing. If your solicitor agrees to the detailed assessment, they will send you a letter confirming this and you should send a copy of it to the court. The court may then decide a hearing is not necessary.

Step Two - A Hearing

You must take copies of any documents you’ve sent to the court as part of your application. Both you and your solicitor will present your case to a Costs Judge (London), or a District Judge (outside London). They will decide whether to order a detailed assessment of the bill and will either notify you during the hearing or by post within a few days. You’ll be given a court order allowing detailed assessment to take place. If you are denied you can appeal the decision.

Step Three - Detailed Assessment Request

Your solicitor will apply for their costs to be assessed by filling in the detailed assessment request form (N258C) and sending it off together with the court fee, which varies according to the size of their bill, but starts at £335 for all bills up to £15,000.

At this point they will draw up a detailed bill and “serve” it on you. You then have 21 days from service to provide "Points of Dispute" which raise challenges to the bill. If you fail to raise any challenges within 21 days of service, a "Default Costs Certificate" will probably be obtained for payment of the full amount of the bill by you.

Once Points of Dispute have been served by you, unless you are both able to reach a compromise agreement, the case will proceed to a detailed assessment hearing. For costs less than £75,000, this will be a provisional hearing without the parties, otherwise it will be an oral hearing with the parties and/or their representatives. An oral hearing usually takes anything from an hour to a day, with either a lawyer or costs draftsman attending the hearing for each side.

What Is The Basis Used For Assessing Costs?

The Court goes through the bill line by line, assessing the issues raised and determining the amount that should be paid. The basis of assessment of legal costs is either on the standard basis or the indemnity basis. These include looking at how reasonable the costs are and how proportional they are to the issues of the case. Attention may be paid to the Guideline Hourly Rates, but these are less binding and are not relevant on solicitor/own client assessments (Indemnity basis).

Who Pays For The Costs Of The Detailed Assessment?

As with most court costs, the losing party is most likely going to be responsible for the costs of going through the detailed assessment process. However, unless the judge reduces the bill by 20% or more, or there are other special circumstances, such as you previously made an offer to pay higher costs than have been decided by the judge, it’s likely you will be considered the loser. This means you will need to pay your own costs and the other party’s reasonable costs of the detailed assessment.

When Must The Costs Be Paid?

Once the amount of costs has been decided, there is usually 14 days to make payment, unless the Court gives a different deadline.

To discuss your legal costs, call us on 01935 823883