The phones in our Court of Protection Costs office rang off the hook earlier this month after the new practice guidance on travel costs (issued by the Office of Public Guardian) gave less than clear advice for professional deputies on the recoverability of travel fees. Adrian Hawley, Head of Court of Protection Costs at PIC, provides some clarification.
I am often asked by Court of Protection Deputies about restrictions to travel to meet with the Protected Party. There are those cases which warrant more than one visit a year which would include the purchase of a property, adaptation of the property, engagement with a privately employed team of carers, investment matters and urgent matter which will crop up throughout the management year.
The phone was ringing off the hook earlier in June with the new practice guidance issued by the Office of Public Guardian with regards to travel costs, which provided guidance for a public authority or third sector deputies but was unclear for professional deputies.
The main point to consider in the public deputy guidance is the following paragraph:
Deputies can only claim costs for travel they undertake to carry out their duties. OPG considers claims for costs unrelated to the deputyship (for example, journeys to carry out care reviews or any other statutory functions) unreasonable. The rate is £40.00 per hour.
Now we know from the OPG professional deputy costs guidance issued in July 2016 that one visit to the Protected Party is reasonable in a general management year that is stable – note the word STABLE! Deputies will have those cases where there is turmoil and matters are not stable in the life of the Protected Party and more than one visit is justifiable.
Some clients tell me of their application in the Court of Protection to act for P living in Cornwall when the solicitor is based in Leeds and the query is made by the court as to why a solicitor based 390 miles should be granted the Deputyship. The answer is in the main due to the best interests of P who may have instructed that particular Deputy for their knowledge of a certain injury that is unique to P or simply P has moved and used to live in Leeds – there are many other permutations which I will not go into here.
At a recent Court of Protection panel question and answer session, I attended in London, some members of the panel hinted of a future approach to take into account where the solicitor and P are located and would it be justifiable to claim those expenses? It is a requirement of the solicitor to make that minimum once a year visit but is it reasonable to charge P for their travelling time over a great distance?
Turing to the costs assessment guidance in Legal Aid funded matters there is this section to consider about the use of a local agent to the funded party:
Where travel time has been incurred caseworkers should consider whether it was reasonable to travel or whether it would be more appropriate to use a local agent or conduct the meeting via telephone attendance or video conference.
In recent times, it would appear that certain guidance produced by the OPG / SCCO closely follows that costs guidance from the Legal Aid Agency and changes brought into public funding with the introduction of LASPO in 2012.
What does the future hold for travel to attend upon P? Will there be restrictions as to radius to the solicitor’s offices for travel claims? Will local agents have to be appointed? Will there be a demand for the use of video conferences? Who will facilitate such conference calls? Will there be a CoPPA network of accredited video conference facilities?
One thing is for certain when undertaking visits to P and their family is the Professional Deputy costs guidance as follows:
Professional Deputies should try to limit excessive contact with all parties, including the client, their family members and case workers. In all cases, professional deputies are expected to use their judgement in deciding the most cost effective method of communication, and take a balanced approach to meeting the client’s needs against incurring excessive costs.
- The OPG guidance on professional deputy costs can be found here.
- The OPG guidance for professional deputy standards can be found here.
- The guidance for claiming travel costs as a public authority or third sector deputy can be found here.
To contact him regarding any of the matters raised in this blog
or other Court of Protection costs issues, please click here.