Birmingham City Council v Lee  EWCA Civ 891 concerns claimant’s costs incurred while following the disrepair pre-action protocol.
It is not uncommon for a landlord to do repairs after an early notification letter, or letter of claim, but pre issue (not that common, but not uncommon). This leaves the claim as for damages only. Where repairs are outstanding, the small claims limit is £1000 in damages or cost of works. But a damages only claim hits the usual £5000 limit. There are the small claims unavailability of costs consequences, and there is no public funding for small claims. Thus, doing the repairs would often kill a disrepair claim. In the meantime, costs would have been racked up following the protocol steps – which are necessary, with a potential costs penalty for not doing so.
Lee decides that, given the nature of the protocol, a claim begins at the start of the protocol steps, not at the commencement of litigation. Pursuant to CPR 44.9(2), the Court has the power to make a costs order for pre-allocation period, unrestrained by the limitations of whatever track the claim is allocated to.
Where a claim at pre-action protocol stage would be a fast-track claim (works not done), the Court can make an order that the Claimant have their costs, up to the date of the works being done, at the fast-track rate. This is still subject to establishing notice, liability etc., so will likely be ordered as costs in the cause.
The Claimant should apply for such a costs order with allocation questionnaires.
Now, although this leaves the claim ongoing as a small claim, with the remaining costs issues that this implies, it does mean that:
a) the principle is established for the purposes of negotiating costs in settlements, even pre-issue. There is the stick of a threat to issue and seek the costs order to use.
b) depending on the specifics of the case, it may be possible to continue a case that was initially publicly funded on a CFA basis, once it turns into a small claim. The statutory charge for the pre-action period should be covered by the pre-action fast-track costs order, meaning that the client’s damages won’t vanish into the statutory charge. But that is going to take careful evaluation of the client’s benefit.