The Ultimate Guide to No Win No Fee Claims in the UK
What is a No Fee No Win Claim?
If you’ve ever been involved in an accident that resulted in an injury – you’re allowed to file an accident claim, given that the accident wasn’t your fault, but that of the other party. This much is pretty clear and is known by nearly everyone to be their legal right.
Most people however tend to for go this right, even when they’re completely certain that the accident wasn’t their fault – simply because they are unable to pay the high cost of legal solicitation involved in these cases.
The ‘No Win No Fee’ accident claims UK procedure was implemented to address this very problem. With this new (relatively) system of making accident claims, you can have a fair chance of obtaining compensation for the injuries you received as a result of an accident that wasn’t your fault, even if you haven’t got any money to afford an expensive lawyer.
What it means
When it comes to accident claims, you’ll discover that a large number of solicitors are willing to fight your case on the basis of ‘no win no fee’. This is precisely what it sounds like – you literally do not have to pay the lawyer / firm any fees if they fail to win the case.
Upon entering a no win no fee agreement, it basically means that the law firm has agreed to provide you a service while taking care of all the legal aspects of your particular situation.
You won’t have to pay any money upfront. Put another way, the lawyer is the one taking the risk by accepting your case. Because they’re taking the risk of non-payment should they fail, you’ll be expected to pay them a ‘success fee’ if they are able to win the case for you.
According to the no win no fee agreement, you are bound to pay the lawyer’s fees if they are able to get a ruling in your favor. This fee will normally be a portion of the compensation you’ll be awarded for the damage done to you and will be directly recovered from the compensation.
The Conditional Fee Agreement, or CFA, is the legal document that formally sets out the rules and regulations of this agreement between you and the solicitor.
Since April 2013, lawyers are allowed to charge a percentage of compensation you receive from your damages as the success fee. This fee could be a maximum of 25% of the damages recovered from the personal injury claim, therefore it is advisable to explicitly inquire about the terms of payment, as well as other vital details, from the law firm before signing the agreement.
What is a No Fee No Win Solicitor?
No win no fee lawyers are rapidly becoming a popular option for seeking compensation against accidental damages all over the UK, for a large number of claimants.
It is an undeniable fact that taking a claim to court can easily be a very costly process, and for the majority, the costs associated to making the claim for compensation can be a dangerous gamble.
Because of this, no win no fee lawyers will frequently showcase their services in this manner to imply a form of legal representation that is apparently free from any risk on part of the claimant.
These lawyers will work for you under the conditional fee agreement (CFA) as mentioned above. Some of the best injury lawyers work under this agreement, so there is a very good chance that you will be fully represented with experienced legal solicitation, as you make your claim for compensation against the offending party.
Here is an example of how you may utilize the services of some of the best no win no fee solicitors London to your advantage:
If you are suspicious that you / someone near you has been the victim of medical negligence, you should talk to a specialist medical CFA solicitor as quickly as possible.
You won’t have to pay anything for the legal advice so there’s no harm in taking this course – remember however, that your suspicion should be based on hard evidence rather than pure guesswork, or the solicitor will probably reject your case, making it a waste of time for you.
The no win no fee medical solicitor will perform the following tasks for you:
- Analyze your case to determine if it is worth pursuing a claim against.
- Offer you advice on the best path for you to follow.
- Follow up your case in depth and consult experts to prove your claim is correct.
- Contact the offending medical practitioner through a letter to inform them of your claim and your reasons for making it.
- Advise you on the next course of action following the medical practitioner’s response.
- Represent you legally if the claim enters court proceedings.
- Provide you specialized solicitation in a legal domain which can frequently be complex because of several issues affecting medical negligence claims.
Benefits and Potential Risks
If, instead of taking the no win no fee approach, you go for a privately funded claim, you would have to pay your lawyer all of their fees, as well as any costs involved in administering the claim – this means everything up to, and inclusive of, your trial.
If and when you succeed in proving your claim in court, you would expect the other side to pay for your legal costs, besides your compensation. And at this time, your solicitor will likely give you back some of the money you originally paid them.
But if you were to lose the case, you would be forced to pay a rather large lawyers fee plus extra expenses, and in rare cases, the cost of your opposition. On the other hand, if you take the Conditional Fee Agreement route, your solicitor will be sharing your risk when pursuing your claim in court, which means you won’t have to pay hefty lawyer’s fees up front.
If the lawyer succeeds in proving your claim, they can take part (no more than 25%) of the compensation for their legal expertise, and you can walk away with the rest.
However, if you lose the case, the CFA will protect you from having to pay the cost of legal solicitation (this is the risk being taken by the CFA solicitor). You would still have to pay for any miscellaneous costs involved in the case such as the cost for expert advice, evidence such as medical reports and so on.
Usually, at the very start of taking on your case, the solicitor will arrange an insurance policy that covers these extra charges, so essentially, you won’t have to pay anything if you were to lose!
One more thing worth keeping in mind is that since the solicitor will only take up your case if they’re strongly convinced that you have a shot at winning it, they will work very hard to guarantee an outcome in your favour – after all, it will be the only way they get paid for their efforts.
There are also certain potential disadvantages associated with the CFA legal route, which you should be cautious about:
- The law requires you to inform the court about your CFA agreement, and also about your approximate chances of success – this could expose certain flaws in your legal argument.
- Your solicitors will try their hardest to make a successful case (because only this will mean they get paid), and may even ask you take a course of action that is undesirable for you.
- If your solicitor doesn’t arrange After The Event insurance for you, you may have to pay miscellaneous costs of the case, should you lose it.
Even though the whole point of no win, no fee arrangements is to provide risk free legal services, there are instances where the clients have had to face several thousand pounds of unforeseen costs.
The reason for this is that the no win, no fee market is getting more and more aggressive – there are several rogue, substandard law firms which compete for cases and prioritize finding clients over carefully choosing them. These firms follow a business model that involves overestimation of success chances which can compel lawyers to use unethical means to avoid a financial crunch.
Sometimes, these law firms pull out of the CFA agreement in the middle of a case, leaving the claimant standing alone in court.
This is why you should be extra careful when selecting your no win no fee solicitor, so you don’t end up in a similar situation.
No win no fee changes:
Some CFA solicitors continue to mention that you won’t be charged a pence for basic lawyer fees and that if you are successful, their fees will be paid by the opposition.
While this was certainly the case as recently as a few years ago, in 2013, the policy was revised and changed – the winning fee will be taken out as percentage of the compensation you receive. This was done to minimize the filing of unethical / baseless accident claims.
The majority of accident / personal injury claims have a three year time limit upon them (sometimes lower than this) which means you should not hesitate to consult a solicitor regarding the feasibility of filing a no win no fee case. You won’t be charged anything for their expert advice that will also be totally unbiased.
Are there any hidden costs?
The first thing you need to know about a typical no win, no fee law firm is that they’ll never demand payment for their legal services in the event that the case is lost.
You will be charged a percentage of their basic costs as a ‘success fee’ however – this will be taken out of your compensation. The reason for this is that the firm is taking a risk on your behalf by working for you knowing that they’ll get no payment if the case is lost. This is in line with rules set out by the Court.
There are also certain ‘hidden’ charges involved in a no win, no fee claim, that are not part of the legal fee of your solicitor and you may have to pay depending on the situation:
Before the agreement is made:
There are certain types of conditional fee agreement based claims in which the law firm needs to carry out investigations before they can offer you an agreement. Public funding (read: Legal Aid) may be acquired to pay for these investigations and finance your claim to trial in certain neo-natal and obstetric claims. The law firm usually advises you on the suitability of your claim with regards to Legal Aid.
Money payable to other individuals i.e. disbursements
As your claim is under process, your lawyers will have to issue payments to other people for things like court fees, medical reports, travel expenses, barrister’s fees and so on.
If the court rules in your favor:
If you’re able to win in court, the solicitor will be able to recover the majority of your basic expenses from the defendants, so you’ll have only to pay the ‘success fee’.
If the court rules against you:
If you lose your case, even though you won’t have to pay the solicitor’s legal fees, you will be held liable for paying the expenses of those experts who were instructed for your case, besides the court fees incurred for it. Moreover, you may also have to pay the court costs for the other side as well.
ATE insurance cover:
In most cases, the law firm will usually take out an insurance policy on your behalf as a contingency in case you lose the case. For most CFA claims, the premium for this policy won’t be payable until the claim has ended, and you’ll only be paying for it in case you win.
The reason for this is that the policy is what is referred to as ‘self-insured’ i.e. you don’t have to pay for it if you lose!
ATE insurance is a somewhat recent kind of insurance which protects the legal client i.e. you (the claimant, but it could also be a defendant in a legal trial) after or when you become informed of the need for litigation for the protection of your interests.
This policy will cover you against potentially large expenses, which you might be liable for if your claim proves to be unsuccessful.
What exactly is covered?
Before anything else, After the Event Insurance Policy will cover the opponent’s expenses, but will also certainly take care of any disbursements related to your case (this includes its own premium).
The standard cover with this policy is for expenses incurred after the date of inception of the ATE policy up to the ending of the claim, but it can be negotiated to cover costs which were incurred before the policy was obtained.
When will your lawyer get ATE cover for your claim?
Unlike certain ATE policies which are bound by the lawyer under some sort of ‘delegated authority’/’scheme’ basis, where you may have to insist that the lawyer issue a policy early into the case, there isn’t any compulsion as to when the lawyer has to approach an ATE cover broker.
The case may already be in the legal proceedings stage – there have been instances where brokers have provided ATE cover at the steps of the Court!
However, speaking generally, it can be quite a lengthy process to obtain cover (particularly for cases which are relatively weak) therefore it is the brokers’ advice that the lawyer contact them well before any court deadline.
They recommend that ATE cover be sought as soon as a consensus has been made between you and the lawyer regarding the funding options for the claim. If you discover, or strongly believe that ATE cover will be your best bet, or a major part of your financing solution (e.g. in combination with Litigation Funding), you should seek it at once.
Minimally speaking, ATE insurers will normally be expecting some semblance of a response from the opposing side, so they can assess the feasibility and chances of success of your claim and may also require some evidence to support your no win, no fee claim.
What affects the cost of ATE insurance?
- The strength of your claim.
- The perceived feasibility of your claim with the insurers.
- The time at which the ATE policy is taken out (as early as possible, preferably).
- The duration after which the case is settled.
- Whether the premium is flat or staged/stepped.
Note that if the premium falls under a recoverable disbursement, you seldom have to worry about how much it costs. Sometimes, the premium doesn’t have to be paid until the case is ended and insured (i.e. written off / deemed not due) if the case isn’t successful. In other words, you’ll only have to pay the premium if you win the case.
Can the insurance premium be recovered in case of a successful claim?
If your policy was taken out prior to April 1st, 2013, it is recoverable given that you are able to prove that there weren’t other better / alternative funding options available to you that would have cost the opposing side less / nothing, or if the premium is deemed to be totally unreasonable.
Topnotch ATE policy brokers will help your solicitors prove that the policy was purchased after careful evaluation of financial options and they’ll also provide a formal quotation letter that can be sent to the opponent if they have any scruples about the premium when the case has ended.
After March 31st, 2013, however, the ATE premium isn’t a recoverable disbursement in case the outcome is successful.
Impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
Otherwise known as the Justice Act, these reforms are a result of the findings and recommendations of Lord Justice Jackson which were presented in a report by him in January 2010.
Presently, the majority of civil actions (and a very large part of personal injury claims) are taken to court on the ‘no win no fee’ basis through a conditional fee agreement with a solicitor, supported by an after-the-event insurance that protects the claimant from the compulsion to pay the opposing party’s legal costs in case the case is lost.
If the claimant wins, the defended (or their insurers) have to pay the legal cost of the claimant’s lawyers and the premium for the claimant’s ATE premium. However, if the claimant does not win, no ATE premium / success fee has to be paid while the ATE cover pays for the defendant’s legal costs.
This has led to a win-win situation for claimants because they can bring a case to court at absolutely no financial risk – which has led to several unethical and weak damage claims as well as the rise of shady ‘no win, no fee’ solicitors.
The new Act was passed on May 1st 2012 and it implemented sweeping reforms to civil actions that were brought to court on the basis of no win, no fee.
No more recovering basic legal costs from the losing side:
Present in the Act’s Part 2 are rules which mean that claimants who win their case in court have to foot their solicitor’s ‘success fee’ as well as the ATE insurance premium from the damages awarded to them.
This is under section 44 of this Act, which abolishes recover-ability in nearly all litigation actions and compels claimants to pay the success fee as well as the premium on their own.
The exception to this is ATE premiums related to expert report costs in cases of clinical negligence. According to section 44, the Lord Chancellor can make regulations that allow the recovery (fully or partly) of the premium paid in such cases.
Capping the maximum ‘success fee’ percentage:
The same section also places a cap on the level of success fee charged by lawyers in certain kinds of claims. The Lord Chancellor will specify the percentage of damages to be charged as success fee, and according to the Ministry of Justice, this cap of 25% will apply to personal injury cases.
A slightly different variety of no win, no fee agreements are damages-based agreements (DBAs) where the solicitor’s fee is a percentage of the claimant’s compensation rather than being related to the legal work they have performed on behalf of the client.
If the case is won by the claimant, the costs normally recovered from the losing side are set off against the DBE charges because of the claimant’s lawyer. Section 45 of the Act does away with present contingency fee (DBA) restrictions in Welsh and English courts. Because of this act, the Lord Chancellor is allowed to limit the varieties of legal cases in which DBA is an option and the court has the authority to set the DBA costs in case of a winning claim.
As already mentioned, the maximum cap for DBA fees is set to 25% of the damages won in case of personal injury cases as per the MoJ.
Revision of settlement rules:
Rules on settlement offers have also been beefed up, the Act gives the court the power to set out provisions that allow a defendant, who did not accept the claimant’s reasonable offer for settlement (which is unbeaten later at trial), to be ordered to pay the claimant an extra amount in addition to the judgment figure.
Sections 56 – 61 enforce the ban on referral fees which was announced in September of 2011. These are basically payments which are made for referring / introducing possible clients. Usually, they are paid by lawyers to claims handling firms, but may also be paid by others in the chain of litigation e.g. car repairers.
The ban on referrals (from/to) applies only to ‘regulated persons’ i.e. claims management companies, barristers, solicitors as well as individuals approved by the Financial Services Authority) that have a ‘prescribed legal business’ that is defined as a business which provides legal services to clients with regards to a claim / possible claim for personal injury/death.
Breaking this ban won’t amount to an offence or lead to an action for breaching statutory duty. It just makes the contract to make / pay the referral fee unenforceable.
This acts like a defense for the regulated individual to reveal that the fee was paid for providing services / for other reasons, rather than as a referral.
A 10 percent raise in ‘non-pecuniary’ general damages for every claimant e.g. compensation given for loss of amenity, suffering and pain, and a ‘qualified one way costs’ mechanism that, in most cases, saves the personal injury claimant from having to pay the defendants costs in case those their claim.
However, as per the Ministry of Justice, cases where the claimant has acted unreasonably, frivolously or fraudulently, or where the claimant is ‘very rich’, are exceptions to the QOCS mechanism – this can be a drawback for the claimants since they won’t be aware at the very beginning of their case whether they risk having to pay defendant’s costs in case they lose or not.
Presently, the government has proposed the introduction of QOCS for personal injury cases that include claims of clinical negligence. The standard costs rule that the losing side has to pay still holds in other cases.
Also, a result of the QOCS implementation will be that the claimant will have to rely less on ATE insurance – the present cover scheme against having to pay the defendant’s cost in case of a loss. Even when claimants do take out ATE insurance, the premium they pay will be from their own pocket.
Another rule of this Act will be one which requires the costs recovered from the other side to proportionate and reasonable, in light of importance, complexity and value of the personal injury claim.
County Court actions:
Proposals have also been published by the Ministry of Justice for the reformation of County Court disputes. These include rules that all non-personal injury claims worth 100,000 pounds or fewer will be held in County Court rather than the High Court.
Small claims limit in the county court has been brought up to 10,000 pounds from the previous 5000 and it may yet be raised by another 5000 pounds. The Small Claims Mediation Service will automatically be referred every small claim although mediation won’t be compulsory.
After further evaluation, extension of the current fixed recoverable costs scheme for smaller value road accident claims (max. 10,000 pounds) to RTAs that amount up to 25000 pounds, and later to employer, as well as public liability personal injury cases, is planned by the Government.
Furthermore, a more efficient and modern County Court system is planned to be implemented through the introduction of a unified county court which will allow the handling of all claims electronically at centralized business centers, from where they can be assigned to neighboring courts as needed.
Where to get free legal advice in the UK
You can pay for the cost of legal counsel, family mediation as well as representation in court / tribunal through legal aid, too. The acquisition of this aid depends on how well you are able to prove that your case is deserving of legal aid, that your problem is serious, and that you can’t afford to foot the lawyer’s costs on your own.
Common cases where you can get legal aid:
- Your family or you are in danger of being seriously harmed / abused e.g. forced marriage, domestic violence etc.
- You stand to lose your home / become homeless.
- You have been accused of having committed a crime or face detention / prison.
- You have suffered discrimination.
- You require family mediation.
- You are adding legal arguments / filing a case under Human Rights Act.
Legal aid in England and Wales:
You can get legal aid in England / Wales by either contacting Civil Legal Advice for housing, family, education, discrimination and debt related cases, or by contacting a local family mediator / civil advisor holding a contract for any kind of legal aid case.
Legal aid in Scotland:
In Scotland, your lawyer will inform you if you are eligible for legal aid (depends on your financial condition as well as whether the issue is related to Scottish law) and then apply for legal aid on your behalf to the Scottish Legal Aid board.
Besides the financial criteria, there are several other requirements that need to be met before your application is approved and these are provided in a leaflet issued by the board which can be downloaded from their website.
If you aren’t able to acquire legal aid in this manner, there are also other organizations such as Citizens Advice Scotland, Shelter and Money Advice Centers that give free advice. Also remember to check with your insurers or trade unions.
Legal aid in Northern Ireland:
You can get legal aid in Northern Ireland through the green form scheme, assistance by way of representation, controlled legal representation scheme (requires a mental health review) and publicly funded legal representation.
Publicly funded representation is somewhat analogous to the legal aid offered in other parts of the UK in that you have to meet a financial criteria before it can be granted. You can contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for more details on this type of legal aid.
Do no win, no fee cases get legal aid?
Interestingly, in the case of no win no fee Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that explicitly states the slim possibility of legal aid. All other parts of the UK exclude it from any legal aid provision on the ground that it is based on a conditional fee agreement.
Even in Northern Ireland, only cases where the net costs of the no win, no fee case are estimated to be very high have a chance of getting legal aid funding!
Tips for choosing solicitors no win no fee
Below are steps that can be used as a basic guideline to assist in the process of finding and selecting a personal injury lawyer. Keep in mind that you may not be able to follow each of these steps to the hilt, but strive to cover as many as you can.
First – Ascertain the type of injury you’ve sustained. A road / car accident is obvious in itself. The collision would have impacted your body physically and you may even have suffered a mental shock.
If you think you’ve sustained an injury at a hospital, you should see if any of your usual bodily functions have been affected after they’ve let you off. You might also have been injured due to a defective product or while you are traveling.
Second – Inform you friends and family and ask them for recommendations. Chances are that some of them may already have utilized the services of one / more no win no fee employment law solicitors, and they’ll share their experiences with you.
Be ready for polarized opinions – both negative and positive. Ask direct questions to discover their particular likes / dislikes about the solicitors in question, the legal process and the results.
Third – Do thorough research. Begin by conducting a search on the internet. Your first stop should be the website of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers which will give you a reasonable idea of who to contact and where.
Also, surf through the individual websites of personal injury lawyers, particularly the ones located close to your home.
Fourth – Create a list of lawyers that you’ll meet and interview. Again, begin with those nearest to your home since you’ll have to spend a considerable amount of time in your solicitor’s office and the travel time / costs could be both physically and fiscally stressful.
A lawyer that is near to your home will also be familiar with local courts and the people they’ll have to deal with – an invaluable asset in a claim.
Fifth – Create the list of questions you’ll be asking the solicitors whom you’ve written down in your earlier list. Here are some questions that should always be included:
- What is your area of expertise?
The majority of solicitors will fight a diverse range of cases, but they’ll be especially good in a particular domain. For instance, if you were injured due to clinical negligence, you will be ill advised to hire a solicitor who deals mainly in car accidents.
- Please give a list of references.
You should talk to a minimum of 2 – 3 references before you decide on a solicitor. Every lawyer you talk to will have a list – and those that don’t, you ought to avoid altogether.
- Since when have you been practicing this kind of case?
You don’t need a lawyer with two decades worth of experiences, or one who’s just started fresh. Any lawyer with 5+ years of experience with your particular type of injury will do just fine.
- Can you give a short assessment for my case?
This is a vital inquiry. If the lawyer can successfully review your situation, and give a clear analysis while also providing a rough value for compensation, you should take this as a sign that they know their stuff. The assessment you get should be similar across several lawyers for it to be reasonably valid – so make sure you question several before you deem an assessment correct / incorrect.
- What are the expenses of this case?
The majority of lawyers have a no win, no fee operating principle. If a lawyer mentions upfront charges – walk out with you head held high (this means that they doubt their own abilities of winning the case or that your case hasn’t a solid foundation). A good no win, no fee law firm will let you know if the latter is the case after a brief analysis.
- What is the duration of the case?
You must ensure that the lawyer isn’t too busy to handle your case, since it can be frustrating if your case starts but the lawyer can’t hasten it. Compare the time frames each lawyer gives you so you can get a rough idea of the amount of work they’re already dealing with and choose the time frame that best suits your needs.
Sixth – Reach a verdict. After interviewing several lawyers, if you find that there is little divergence between two or three of them, go for any one of the latter with whom you felt most at ease during the interview. A lawyer with a personality to match yours will be the best case scenario.
Generally speaking, collect all possible information and keep it in a central place, provide copies of it to your lawyer, be sure that you pick a lawyer who’s an expert in your particular type of injury, verify references, get a reasonable estimate of the time frame for the case, and try to find a lawyer you can talk easily with.
Picking out a personal injury solicitor can be tough, especially if you have no experience in legal claims before. But if you follow the aforementioned guidelines, you are reasonably likely to find a good lawyer that will make the whole process a lot smoother and win you your just compensation.
What the solicitor may want to know from you
Your solicitor will inquire about these details regarding your case:
- The date and place of occurrence of accident and how exactly it went down.
- Contact information of those who witnessed it.
- Details of your injury/injuries, medical reports and any treatment you received.
- Whether you belong to a trade union or have legal advice insurance.
Additionally, your solicitor may also ask for:
- Evidence that indicates lost earnings as well as other expenses which occurred because of your injury.
- Documents related to all insurance policies you have taken out (to see if they can cover all / part of your legal expenses)
- Any evidence that can be used in court to strengthen your case – this includes documents prior to the accident or any prior accidents that occurred in similar conditions.
Conclusion – Is it worth it?
No win, no fee legal representation has become increasingly popular in the UK ever since the government cut out legal aid for personal injury claims.
However, recently, there has been a huge surge in the number of firms offering this type of representation which has inevitably led to bogus solicitors that are only out for some quick cash.
As the claimant, it is your responsibility that you seek thorough legal advice from a no win, no free solicitor (a good one) before deciding on taking the case to court.
The success of your case depends directly on whether your claim is true or not, since no win, no fee claims are already viewed with a degree of skepticism in court because of the many fake cases that have been brought up in recent years.