Points of Dispute: The Greener Way to Negotiate Costs
What are Points of Dispute?
Subsequent to the receipt of the Notice of Commencement, you will have 21 days to prepare Points of Dispute. Essentially, this document will focus on identifying specific items in the bill which you do not agree with as you do not have to accept the original Bill of Costs.
You can ensure that any inflated entries in the bill are addressed and contest the amount claimed for disbursements. If you fail to prepare Points of Dispute within the allotted 21-day period, the opposing party can serve a Default Costs Certificate on you. This document will enforce payment of the full amount of the Bill of Costs.
How should Points of Dispute be prepared?
It is vital that Points of Dispute are prepared well as mistakes within them can result in financial losses. Therefore, it is important to consider the employment of a legal costs expert such as a costs draftsman or costs lawyer.
Prior to preparation of the Points of Dispute, you should consider whether the matter will proceed to a provisional assessment hearing, for matters valued at less than £75,000. Alternatively, a detailed assessment hearing may be held, for matters valued above that figure. Due to the paper-based nature of provisional assessment hearings, it is vital that all of your evidence is placed within your submissions as you will have no opportunity to provide it at a later date.
In order to prepare Points of Dispute in the style that the court expects, Practice Direction 47.8 should be followed during preparation.
This Practice Direction expresses that:
“Points of Dispute must be short and to the point. They must follow Precedent G in the Schedule of Costs Precedents annexed to this Practice Direction, so far as practicable.”
The direction then goes on to highlight that they should:
(a) “Identify any general points or matters of principle which require decision before the individual items in the bill are addressed; and
(b) Identify specific points, stating concisely the nature and grounds of dispute.”
Finally, the Court states that “once a point has been made it should not be repeated but the item numbers where the point arises should be inserted into the left-hand box as shown in Precedent G.”
When preparing this document, it is vital that it is completed in accordance with the structure of the Precedent G. Therefore, there will be an adequate amount of space under each point for a reply to the dispute and the Cost Officer’s decision.
Breakdown of Practice Direction 47.8
The language that is utilized by the Court can sometimes be confusing for an individual who is not well-versed in costs law, this is why we recommend the skills of a costs expert. However, we understand that it can be important for individuals to understand the information themselves.
“Short and to the point” – This direction highlights that all of the disputes in the document should not be unnecessarily extensive. Instead, they should be concise and provide evidence to prove your dispute. If the Court deems that your style of writing does not follow this requirement, they can request the Points of Dispute to be re-drafted. This will incur further costs.
“Identify any general points or matters of principle…before the individual items in the bill are addressed” – In order to follow this requirement, you should propose your points of principle regarding proportionality or hourly rates at the beginning of the document. You can then go on to highlight disputes that you have with individual items.
Paying party and receiving party – Whenever a legal costs document refers to the ‘paying party’ they are focusing on the party who is preparing the Points of Dispute and paying the costs. On the contrary, when they speak about the ‘receiving party’ they are highlighting the party who is receiving the Points of Dispute and costs.
Why are well drafted Points of Dispute necessary?
Well drafted Points of Dispute are required to ensure that you do not end up overpaying, due to inflation of items in the receiving party’s bill.
A costs expert will know to focus on ‘big-ticket items’ such as hourly rates or the level of Counsel fees, as these items are most likely to achieve the largest reductions. Furthermore, the validity of the retainer can be questioned to disallow the entirety of the costs claimed.
Importance of Compliance
It is important for points to remain compliant as the Court of Appeal saw in the case of Ainsworth v Stewarts Law LLP  EWCA Civ 897, in which the claimant disputed all the entries and listed their issues such as significant duplication between fee-earners, wholly excessive time expended by fee-earners reviewing documentation provided by the claimant, as well as too much claimed time regarding preparation.
From this, Stewarts Law stated they were unable to provide ‘any meaningful reply’ to the generalized points of dispute and that they instead required more specific and itemized points.
What succeeds the service of Points of Dispute?
Following the service of Points of Dispute, the receiving party will have an opportunity to respond via Replies to the Points of Dispute. They have 21 days to prepare these, however, they will not face any sanctions if they fail to do so in the time frame. Ideally, settlement will be reached after the provision of these two documents.
If settlement has not been reached, the Court would advise the implementation of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). This is to ensure that matters settle efficiently, and no court time is wasted.
If ADR is not successful, detailed assessment proceedings at Court will be required. The type of hearing completed will depend on the value of the matter.
Why instruct Greener Costs to prepare your Points of Dispute?
We possess extensive experience in applying and preparing points of dispute and replies. The team at Greener Costs has extensive experience in the costs law industry, thus they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to prepare effective Points of Dispute. Alternatively, we can prepare Replies to the Points of Dispute if you are the receiving party.
In addition to our drafting services, at Greener Costs, we are actively doing everything we can to ensure our business benefits the environment.
We are doing this though carbon offsetting of our staff, becoming completely paperless and carbon offsetting through each instruction.
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