The Cost and Expenses of a Disability Attorney or a Disability Representative

When a claimant obtains representation by a disability attorney or a non-attorney representative, they sign two very important forms provided by the representative, which are mailed to SSA (social security administration).

The first form is an appointment of representative form, otherwise known as a form SSA-1696. This form, as one might think, states who will be representing the disability claim. It also effectively puts the social security administration to:

A) Include the non-attorney representative or disability lawyer when sending out notices to the claimant (so that both the claimant and the representative both receive copies of all notices, requests for information, and appointments)

and also

B) To ask the representative's permission before attempting to directly contact the claimant (this is done to protect the claimant).

The second form that is signed when a person is establishing a relationship with a disability representative is a fee agreement. This form will also be mailed to SSA, but it must be approved by social security before it becomes binding on the claimant.

Note: because all disability attorneys and non-attorney representatives are aware of the fact that the fee agreement must be approved, fee agreements tend to use the same language and they all tend to look very much alike...making it even more important, of course, for an individual to carefully read their fee agreement before signing it so that they can become fully aware of what it stipulates.

What does the fee agreement do? It sets forth on paper just how the representative (attorney or otherwise) will be compensated for providing representation on the claim. What are the costs for being represented on a Social Security Disability claim, or being represented on an SSI claim?

There are two types of costs: the actual fee for representation and incidental expenses. The fee itself is non-negotiable and that is because it is regulated by the social security administration and by Congress. The fee for representation is only paid by a claimant in the event that their case is won. It is paid, in most cases, directly to the representative by the social security administration.

How is the amount determined? The fee is equal to 1/4 of the claimant's social security back pay, payable up to a maximum limit which is currently set at $6000.

So, if a claimant receives one thousand dollars in disability back pay, the representative would receive $250 in back pay, as this would be one-fourth of the back pay. If a claimant receives $24,000 in back pay, the representative would receive the maximum fee of $6000, which would be the maximum.

However, if the claimant received any amount of back pay higher than $24,000 then the representative could still only receive $6000 as this is the absolute maximum fee that a disability attorney or non-attorney can receive in compensation for their services.

The second type of cost that may be owed to a representative by a claimant whose case has been won is incidental expenses. Usually, this includes the cost of obtaining medical records and statements from your doctor or doctors, both of which are types of evidence that are used to support the case.

However, some representatives charge for other expenses, such as for the cost of postage or for travel expenses to a hearing location. For this reason, before signing with any representative should always read their fee agreement carefully before signing.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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