The general rule about who pays the costs of a court case in fast track claims is that the loser pays the winner. This means the loser has to pay the winner’s legal costs as well as their own.
As a litigant in person (someone who does not have the help of a lawyer), you are allowed to charge for the work you do if you win your fast track claim and the court awards you costs. You are also allowed to charge for your expenses, which the court may refer to as “disbursements”.
What we say in this section about legal costs in fast track claims only applies to non-personal injury cases and road traffic accidents involving no personal injury. For information about personal injury and road traffic cases involving personal injury see Legal costs in fast track personal injury cases and road traffic cases involving injury.
How do costs build up?
Solicitors charge for their time. So, if you are using a solicitor, every time you write, email or phone a solicitor they may charge you for the time they spend reading and thinking about what you write. They will charge you for thinking about what advice to give you, giving you advice and talking to you. The more you contact them or meet them face to face, the more time they spend writing letters for you, negotiating on your behalf, drafting court documents, taking steps in court proceedings for you or representing you in court hearings, the greater the cost to you.
The key is to plan how to use their time. So, for example, prepare for speaking to a solicitor by making a list of:
- The main points you want to make.
- The questions you want to ask.
If you are a litigant in person, but the other side is represented, they will be building up costs in defending the case. Currently, the court usually allows solicitors in London to charge up to about £300 to £400 an hour plus VAT, slightly less outside London. This is the main reason why, if the defendant is represented and you lose, the costs you are likely to be ordered to pay will be so expensive.
Legal costs can add up to thousands of pounds, sometimes to more than the value of the claim itself. This is why courts encourage people to sort out their disputes if possible either without going to court at all or before the case gets to trial. It may sound unlikely, but the fact is, it is possible to end up losing your home if you’re a homeowner, or to be made bankrupt, as a result of losing a civil case. However, there are also times when going to court is likely to be your best or only option, and a specialist solicitor can make all the difference to the result you get.
Can I charge for the time I spend as a litigant in person?
Yes. Currently, you can charge £19.00 per hour of your time reasonably spent on your case. This is time spent on case preparation including any work which a solicitor might charge for. See Practice Direction 46 – Costs special cases.
If your financial loss is greater than that, for example, because if you were not involved in the case you would have been at work earning more than £19.00 per hour, the court may allow you to charge more for some of your time.
You will need to provide evidence of what paid work you were able to do, how much you earned and how much less that was than normal. If you lost out financially because you received job offers that you had to refuse because of the case, again you will need to provide evidence of this and what you would have been paid if you want the court to consider allowing you to charge more than £19.00 per hour for the hours spent on the case when you would have been at work.
There is an overall limit on what the court will allow you to charge for your time. This is two thirds of what a solicitor could reasonably charge for doing the same work. See Practice Direction 46.5 - Litigants in Person.
Litigants in person and VAT
A litigant in person is not treated as having supplied services and so you cannot charge VAT on legal work you do for yourself. This means your bill of costs should not include a claim for VAT.
Fast track trial costs
In a fast track claim the starting point for what a party can recover from the other side in relation to preparing and appearing at trial is fixed costs. The amount depends on the value of the claim and whether dealing with a money claim, non-money claim or counterclaim. The court has the power to award more or less fast track trial costs. More information can be found in Civil Procedure rules Part 45.
When does the court make a decision about legal costs?
The judge will usually deal with costs at the end of the trial as soon as he or she has given their decision on who has won and who has lost.
How does the court assess legal costs at the end of a case?
The court decides whether the costs claimed by the winner are within the authorised amounts and are fair and reasonable using a process called ‘summary assessment’. Essentially ‘assessment’ is a control on what solicitors, barristers, experts and you can charge for your time, and what the other side can charge if they win.
Information about your costs - preparation for trial
You need to prepare a statement of costs (how much you have spent on running your case including receipts for expenses) before the trial. You should also include costs for the trial day itself, for example witness fares for getting to court, your time for being there.
The court expects you to use form N260 to show details of your costs. Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare this statement. It will take longer than you think.
You should provide this information to the other side and the court two days before the hearing so the other side has an opportunity to consider it. Similarly, the other side should provide you with information about their costs before the trial.
What can I claim for?
You can claim for time spent on case preparation, for example face to face meetings or telephone calls with the other party or their legal representative, drafting documents, reading documents, researching the law online or in a library and attending court hearings.
Expenses include things you have to pay for yourself like court fees, experts' fees, photocopying, couriers, postage, paper, ring binders, printer cartridges, travel costs (for example to and from court, to and from your legal adviser, or to visit a witness to take a statement).
When deciding whether to allow you to claim for an expense the court will take into account whether:
- the expense was actually paid,
- it was reasonable to pay it, and
- the amount paid was reasonable.
What cannot be claimed?
If a litigant in person is paid their costs for attending court to run their own case they are not entitled to a witness allowance as well - see Practice Direction 46.5 - Litigants in Person