Disability advocates (and attorneys who provide this service) perform a wide range of responsibilities at all stages of the application process, including helping to file your application, ensuring appeal deadlines are met, collecting evidence, and most critically, developing the strategies and arguments that will help ensure a successful outcome.
While the advantages of having the help of an experienced disability advocate are obvious, most claimants want to know how much these services will cost before securing representation. The information below will help answer some basic questions about the fees your disability advocate may be entitled to:
Understanding Fee Agreements, In Simple Terms
Almost all disability advocates (including Citizens Disability) work on “contingency,” meaning they don’t collect a fee unless you win your claim. If you are found to be not disabled, you don’t have to pay anything to your representative.
Representative fees in disability claims are determined by the Social Security Act. In the vast majority of cases, representatives (whether they are attorneys or, like Citizens Disability, specialized advocates) will receive 25% of any back due benefits you may be entitled to, up to $6,000. Even if 25% of your back due benefits equals more than $6,000, you will only pay up to $6,000.
Many fee agreements may also require that the claimant pay for certain administrative costs associated with the claim, such as postage and copying fees for medical records. Again, these costs only apply after you have won your case, and these usually only amount to at most a few hundred dollars.
Rarely, You Might Encounter a Fee Petition
There are two situations where a representative can charge a fee higher than the $6,000 maximum described above: when a case requires multiple hearings, or where a case is appealed successfully at the Appeals Council or federal court. In those situations, since the representative had to put extra time and resources into the claim, the representative can file a “fee petition” and request a higher fee. The fee petition will then be reviewed by the SSA, and approved only if it is reasonable.
Here are a few examples to illustrates how the fee structure works in SSDI and SSI cases:
Example 1: Bill applies for disability benefits, and following a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge, is approved for benefits. He receives an award letter in the mail on July 1, 2015 with an onset date of January 1, 2014. He is not eligible to start collecting benefits until five full months from the date of the onset of his disability, or June 1, 2014. His monthly benefit amount is $1,000. He is therefore entitled to 13 months of back due benefits, which totals $13,000.
Bill hired an advocate to represent him at his hearing. As stated above, the advocate is entitled to 25% of his back due benefits, or $6,000, whichever number is less. 25% of $13,000 is equal to $3,250, which is less than $6,000. So the representative’s fee in this example would be only $3,250 (plus any reasonable fee for costs such as medical records).
Example 2: Mary is approved for disability benefits as of October 1, 2010. Like Bill, she hired an advocate, and receives her award letter on July 1, 2015. Her monthly benefit amount is $1,500. She is eligible for disability benefits after her five month waiting period, so she is eligible on March 1, 2011. Since she was approved on July 1, 2015, she entitled to 52 months (4 years and 4 months, going back to her eligibility date of March 1, 2011) of back due benefits, or a total of $78,000. 25% of $78,000 is equal to $19,500, but this would be in excess of the maximum fee allowed by the Social Security Act, so Mary’s advocate would only be entitled to $6,000 (again, plus any reasonable fee for costs such as medical records).
About Citizens Disability, LLC:
Since 2010, Citizens Disability has been America’s premier Social Security Disability institution. Our mission is to give a voice to the millions of Americans who are disabled and unable to work, helping them receive the Social Security Disability benefits to which they may be entitled.