Peculiar Impecunious – claiming client travel expenses from the LAA
Sometimes getting money out of the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) is like trying to get blood out of a stone.
One of the many queries we receive from solicitors across the country is “The LAA has rejected the claim for our client's travel expenses, can it do this, can you help?”.
In response we first have to look at the rules and guidance and then appropriate case law.
Table 4.24 of the Civil Specification Contract confirms that client's travel may only be claimed (as a disbursement) in the circumstances as laid out in the Costs Assessment Guidance.
The rules for payment of funded client's travel expenses differ depending on the situation.
1) Attendance at court: The funded client's travel expenses will be paid where it is reasonable for the client to attend court. The guidance states this is as a witness of fact. The LAA expects to see justification as to why this is considered reasonable. (This also applies to third parties who are required to attend court as a witness of fact.) One way around this is to ask the court to order the parties to attend the hearings, thus justifying the necessity. Alternatively, at court the judge could be asked to include justification for the parties to be in attendance in the order.
In relation to care proceedings in the case of RE v North Yorkshire County Council and Others  EWCA Civ 1169 the court recognised that the human rights of the parents are engaged, the respondents/parents must attend all hearings, for the reasons set out in paragraph 49 of the judgment of that case. Their travel expenses to and from court for hearings are necessary and reasonable disbursements on their public funding certificates in order to save both time and costs and for the court to further the overriding objective - in particular by seeking an early resolution to the proceedings.
To quote paragraph 49: "It follows that lay parties are always required to attend".
Therefore, if you apply these comments to other types of cases, it is always reasonable for a party to attend a hearing if there is a chance that there could be an early resolution to proceedings.
2) Travel to attend experts: These are paid where it is necessary for the client to attend the expert and where the client cannot afford to pay for the same (In the LAA's own words - where the client is impecunious). When considering whether these costs should be allowed the LAA also considers the distance to the expert and the cost and method of travel.
Firstly, it has to be shown that the client is impecunious (the LAA regularly refers to this when questioning the validity of a claim for client travel expenses). In all matters except non-means-tested cases the LAA has already established the client's means to enable them to be granted a certificate. In non-means-tested cases a brief description of the client's financial circumstances should be included on the evidence supporting the claim for the travel expense.
Secondly, the form of transport must be taken into account. Public transport should be used in most cases and any travel by taxi will have to be fully justified. It is also a requirement that evidence of the travel expenses is provided such as copies of bus/train tickets. It is recommended that train tickets are purchased direct, rather than giving client's money, which may be difficult to recover if the travel does not go ahead.
Lastly, has the appropriate expert been instructed to ensure the travel distance is kept to a minimum? This cannot always be attained but the reasons why should also be provided to accompany any claim for client travel expenses.
In summary, when you wish to claim for client travel expenses, make sure you:
- know the guidance, rules and case law (RE v North Yorkshire County Council and Others  EWCA Civ 1169), and
- are able to provide the relevant justification and evidence.
This article was written by Allistair Lang who joined Jennings in 1998, having obtained a degree in mathematics and successfully completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in education. Allistair is a Costs Lawyer and has for some years played a pivotal role in Jennings’ training programme. He has considerable technical knowledge and in-depth understanding of all publicly funded matters and ensures that all personnel are aware of the latest developments in this area.