Oct 12, 2014

Fee Petition Process Problems

     From a recent audit report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Our control testing of 50 fee petition payments that exceeded $6,000 in Fiscal Year 2012 found controls were not always working as intended. Specifically, while we found sufficient support authorizing the fee payments, SSA did not always (1) pay fees in accordance with SSA policies and the petition specifications, (2) maintain required documentation for the fee petition process, or (3) adequately track fee petitions in its management information systems. For example, we identified payment processing errors in 16 (32 percent) of the 50 cases we reviewed. In seven instances, SSA incorrectly issued direct fee payments to former claimant representatives who withdrew or, had been discharged, before the favorable decision.


Anonymous said...

Obvious solution: Representatives bill and collect from their clients directly. Offer incentives/discounts if an automated direct payment plan is in place, and greater incentives if clients repay the agreed amount in full from the first back payment. Attorneys, don't you trust your clients? SSA gets out of withholding for payments to representatives, that workload disappears so SSA can address new claims, appeals, and PE issues. Win, Win, Win! After all, SSA doesn't help landlords, friends, credit card companies, gas/electric/water/sewer utilities, etc. collect for money due when a claim is awarded.

Max Abilify said...

I see about the same percentage of errors on my fee petition cases of all sizes. Paying the former rep is quite common, as is releasing the whole fee to me or the former rep as a fee agreement case. That takes about a year to straighten out.

I can remember back in the days of no direct payment to reps from SSI claims that I was about the only private attorney in my area taking SSI cases. There were no non-attorney "firms" around. I would only be paid by cashing the claimant's retro check by depositing it to my IOLTA account with the client present and endorsing the check to me (the bank was downstairs from my office), then me giving them a certain amount of cash (usually $500 or a max of $1000)and a check from the IOLTA account for the balance (minus my fee) with which to deposit and open a passbook savings account for direct deposit. This process saved them check-cashing fees and coming to me month after month. Then I would have to wait to pay myself from the IOLTA if I didn't already have an award letter authorizing the amount of the fee. I rarely had an SSI client that had ever had a bank account. I still had a skip rate of 25-30%.

Anonymous said...

8:09 PM, October 12, 2014 Social Security may well not have "helped" the client either, hence the attorney, nor did the other groups listed.

This is the same as hiring an attorney for an auto case or a workers compensation case. The client has been denied a benefit due them. When an attorney works on those cases, where does the check come? To the attorney. Arguing against direct payment is just a non starter.


Anonymous said...

My problems with the Fee Petition process involve arbitrary and capricious determinations. I have several recent cases where the fee amounts were set at $6,000.00 even though the time and effort (appeals and several hearings) was in excess of that amount. I also had a case that I appealed twice successfully and represented the client at 3 hearings. The past due benefits was over $40,000. My office represented the claimant at four hearings with the first hearing being handled by another attorney in my firm. We filed two fee petitions with the other attorney claiming $3,200 (+) and I asked for $7,200 (+). The ALJ found that my fee was $2,709!! and also found that the other attorney was entitled to $3,200 (+). Also, the claimant signed and approved my fee. I have appealed this ridiculous result to the Regional Chief ALJ. When I ask for written rationale I am told there is none. Something is not right in this situation.

Anonymous said...

As a Judge, I have a problem with SSA notifying a prior rep when the claimant is awarded benefits. We jump through hoops to protect PII, but we send out private information to prior reps. A prior rep is no longer representing the claimant and has no privilege to the claimant's file or information. I am amazed that this continues. I am surprised some smart claimant hasn't filed suit on this issue..