A south coast firm has been rebuked after taking payment of costs from an estate without permission. According to a notice published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Hampshire practice Frettens LLP received the costs from 2012 to 2015 in excess of the fixed amounts permitted under a deputyship order. These costs were supposed to have been assessed by the Supreme Courts Costs Office.
The firm had undertaken in January 2012 to work in relation to a deputyship order for a client. Fixed annual costs were set at £1,500 (plus VAT) for the first year and £1,185 for each of the next two years. The order stated that if costs were to be assessed, this was to be carried out by the Supreme Courts Costs Office on the standard basis.
In November 2017, the firm refunded the estate with almost £3,000 in relation to costs billed over and above the amounts set out in the final costs certificates.
The firm admitted to failing to behave in a way that maintains public trust and failing to protect client money and assets.
The SRA said the conduct affected a vulnerable person and could not be treated as trivial or justifiably inadvertent. It was considered right in the interests of transparency to publish the regulatory settlement agreement made with the firm. Frettens will pay £1,350 to the costs of the SRA investigation.
In a statement, Matthew Fretten, managing partner of Frettens Solicitors, said he regretted that the costs assessment was not conducted in accordance with the order in force at the relevant time.
'This amounted to a training issue in respect of the relevant fee earner who had conduct of the file, who is no longer employed at the firm,’ he said. 'We have since tightened our policies, supervision procedures and training to all fee earners in this area to ensure that this is never repeated. In 2017, the outstanding costs were formally assessed and the client’s estate suffered no loss. We have cooperated fully with the SRA during the course of the investigation and rectified matters as soon as they came to light.'