If you are concerned about your solicitors’ bill (also known as a statute bill or invoice), there are ways in which you can challenge the bill. However, it is important to note that there are strict time limits in which to make this challenge. The procedure can be quite complex so we would advise that you seek specialist legal advice from a costs lawyer.
In the first instance, you may want to consider complaining directly to the solicitors’ firm to see if you can resolve the matter between you. The firm should have an appropriate complaints procedure. You will usually find details of the procedure in the client care paperwork or on their website. Alternatively, you could request it directly from the firm itself (they are required to provide you with details of their complaints procedure).
We can help you formulate your complaint letter to the firm. However, the firm’s complaints procedure should be straightforward to deal with without a specialist costs lawyer.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of the complaint, you can then approach the Legal Ombudsman to review the matter.
| Tight deadlines
If you receive an invoice or bill that you are unhappy with, and you think the fees are excessive in comparison to the work undertaken or that you have been over charged, you have one month to make an application to the Court and request a ‘detailed assessment’ from the date the bill. This time limit is something to be aware of if you have an ongoing complaint. This is because it will continue to run regardless of whether you receive an outcome to your complaint.
If you make an application to the Court for detailed assessment of the bill within one month of receipt, you have an automatic entitlement to challenge the bill. Missing the one-month deadline doesn’t mean it is necessarily the end of the road, however. If you make your application after the one-month time limit, you must first apply to Court to ask permission for the bill to be assessed.
| Detailed or provisional assessment
The procedure for assessment depends on the amount of the bill:
- For any bills that are £75,000 and under, the Court may order a provisional assessment. This means that the Court will decide the amount payable based on the papers.
- For any bills over £75,000, the Court will list the matter for a detailed assessment hearing.
In provisional and detailed assessment, the party who is claiming costs (usually the solicitors’ firm) prepares a bill of costs. This sets out a summary of all the work done on the file. The paying party (usually the client) then prepares a document called ‘points of dispute’. This identifies any items in the bill that they disagree with. Unless the parties can reach a settlement after you present the points of dispute, the matter will go to a final hearing in front of a specialist costs judge.
Challenging a solicitors’ bill requires specialist knowledge of the law and the technical arguments associated with the points of dispute. Further, the procedure for assessment at Court is complex and requires you to comply with other time limits and rules. If you fail to adhere to the directions, the Court may award a default costs certificate against you. This means you may have to pay the full amount of the bill, along with any additional costs spent by the firm in the detailed assessment proceedings. We would therefore recommend instructing an experienced costs lawyer.
| Who pays the costs of assessment?
If the matter proceeds to a final hearing, the Court will decide who pays whose costs. For example, if the Court reduces the bill by 20% or more, you will avoid having to pay the firm’s costs of the assessment and the firm will have to pay your costs of the assessment. If the Court reduces the bill by under 20%, it has discretion as to how costs will be dealt with.
Due to the very short time scales involved, we recommend seeking legal advice as soon as possible. A specialist costs team will advise you on your prospects of success on challenging your solicitors’ bill. They will also ensure that your case is prepared to the highest standard. Their in-depth knowledge of the procedures mean that you will be in the strongest possible position to challenge the bill.
At Levi Solicitors LLP, we have a dedicated costs team who can assist you with any queries. Call us on 0800 988 7756 for a FREE initial discussion.