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REPRESENTATION OF CLAIMANTS[91]

Sec206[42 U.S.C. 406] (a)(1) The Commissioner of Social Security may prescribe rules and regulations governing the recognition of agents or other persons, other than attorneys as hereinafter provided, representing claimants before the Commissioner of Social Security, and may require of such agents or other persons, before being recognized as representatives of claimants that they shall show that they are of good character and in good repute, possessed of the necessary qualifications to enable them to render such claimants valuable service, and otherwise competent to advise and assist such claimants in the presentation of their cases. An attorney in good standing who is admitted to practice before the highest court of the State, Territory, District, or insular possession of his residence or before the Supreme Court of the United States or the inferior Federal courts, shall be entitled to represent claimants before the Commissioner of Social Security. Notwithstanding the preceding sentences, the Commissioner, after due notice and opportunity for hearing, (A) may refuse to recognize as a representative, and may disqualify a representative already recognized, any attorney who has been disbarred or suspended from any court or bar to which he or she was previously admitted to practice or who has been disqualified from participating in or appearing before any Federal program or agency, and (B) may refuse to recognize, and may disqualify, as a non-attorney representative any attorney who has been disbarred or suspended from any court or bar to which he or she was previously admitted to practice. A representative who has been disqualified or suspended pursuant to this section from appearing before the Social Security Administration as a result of collecting or receiving a fee in excess of the amount authorized shall be barred from appearing before the Social Security Administration as a representative until full restitution is made to the claimant and, thereafter, may be considered for reinstatement only under such rules as the Commissioner may prescribe. The Commissioner of Social Security may, after due notice and opportunity for hearing, suspend or prohibit from further practice before the Commissioner any such person, agent, or attorney who refuses to comply with the Commissioner’s rules and regulations or who violates any provision of this section for which a penalty is prescribed. The Commissioner of Social Security may, by rule and regulation, prescribe the maximum fees which may be charged for services performed in connection with any claim before the Commissioner of Social Security under this title, and any agreement in violation of such rules and regulations shall be void. Except as provided in paragraph (2)(A), whenever the Commissioner of Social Security, in any claim before the Commissioner for benefits under this title, makes a determination favorable to the claimant, the Commissioner shall, if the claimant was represented by an attorney in connection with such claim, fix (in accordance with the regulations prescribed pursuant to the preceding sentence) a reasonable fee to compensate such attorney for the services performed by him in connection with such claim.

(2)(A) In the case of a claim of entitlement to past-due benefits under this title, if—

(i) an agreement between the claimant and another person regarding any fee to be recovered by such person to compensate such person for services with respect to the claim is presented in writing to the Commissioner of Social Security prior to the time of the Commissioner’s determination regarding the claim,

(ii) the fee specified in the agreement does not exceed the lesser of—

(I) 25 percent of the total amount of such past-due benefits (as determined before any applicable reduction under section 1127(a)), or

(II) $4,000, and

(iii) the determination is favorable to the claimant,

then the Commissioner of Social Security shall approve that agreement at the time of the favorable determination, and (subject to paragraph (3)) the fee specified in the agreement shall be the maximum fee. The Commissioner of Social Security may from time to time increase the dollar amount under clause (ii)(II) to the extent that the rate of increase in such amount, as determined over the period since January 1, 1991, does not at any time exceed the rate of increase in primary insurance amounts under section 215(i) since such date. The Commissioner of Social Security shall publish any such increased amount in the Federal Register.

(B) For purposes of this subsection, the term “past-due benefits” excludes any benefits with respect to which payment has been continued pursuant to subsection (g) or (h) of section 223.

(C) In any case involving—

(i) an agreement described in subparagraph (A) with any person relating to both a claim of entitlement to past-due benefits under this title and a claim of entitlement to past-due benefits under title XVI, and

(ii) a favorable determination made by the Commissioner of Social Security with respect to both such claims,

the Commissioner of Social Security may approve such agreement only if the total fee or fees specified in such agreement does not exceed, in the aggregate, the dollar amount in effect under subparagraph (A)(ii)(II).

(D) In the case of a claim with respect to which the Commissioner of Social Security has approved an agreement pursuant to subparagraph (A), the Commissioner of Social Security shall provide the claimant and the person representing the claimant a written notice of—

(i) the dollar amount of the past-due benefits (as determined before any applicable reduction under section 1127(a)) and the dollar amount of the past-due benefits payable to the claimant,

(ii) the dollar amount of the maximum fee which may be charged or recovered as determined under this paragraph, and

(iii) a description of the procedures for review under paragraph (3).

(3)(A) The Commissioner of Social Security shall provide by regulation for review of the amount which would otherwise be the maximum fee as determined under paragraph (2) if, within 15 days after receipt of the notice provided pursuant to paragraph (2)(D)—

(i) the claimant, or the administrative law judge or other adjudicator who made the favorable determination, submits a written request to the Commissioner of Social Security to reduce the maximum fee, or

(ii) the person representing the claimant submits a written request to the Commissioner of Social Security to increase the maximum fee.

Any such review shall be conducted after providing the claimant, the person representing the claimant, and the adjudicator with reasonable notice of such request and an opportunity to submit written information in favor of or in opposition to such request. The adjudicator may request the Commissioner of Social Security to reduce the maximum fee only on the basis of evidence of the failure of the person representing the claimant to represent adequately the claimant’s interest or on the basis of evidence that the fee is clearly excessive for services rendered.

(B)(i) In the case of a request for review under subparagraph (A) by the claimant or by the person representing the claimant, such review shall be conducted by the administrative law judge who made the favorable determination or, if the Commissioner of Social Security determines that such administrative law judge is unavailable or if the determination was not made by an administrative law judge, such review shall be conducted by another person designated by the Commissioner of Social Security for such purpose.

(ii) In the case of a request by the adjudicator for review under subparagraph (A), the review shall be conducted by the Commissioner of Social Security or by an administrative law judge or other person (other than such adjudicator) who is designated by the Commissioner of Social Security.

(C) Upon completion of the review, the administrative law judge or other person conducting the review shall affirm or modify the amount which would otherwise be the maximum fee. Any such amount so affirmed or modified shall be considered the amount of the maximum fee which may be recovered under paragraph (2). The decision of the administrative law judge or other person conducting the review shall not be subject to further review.

(4) Subject to subsection (d), if the claimant is determined to be entitled to past-due benefits under this title and the person representing the claimant is an attorney, the Commissioner of Social Security shall, notwithstanding section 205(i), certify for payment out of such past-due benefits (as determined before any applicable reduction under section 1127(a)) to such attorney an amount equal to so much of the maximum fee as does not exceed 25 percent of such past-due benefits (as determined before any applicable reduction under section 1127(a)).

(5) Any person who shall, with intent to defraud, in any manner willfully and knowingly deceive, mislead, or threaten any claimant or prospective claimant or beneficiary under this title by word, circular, letter or advertisement, or who shall knowingly charge or collect directly or indirectly any fee in excess of the maximum fee, or make any agreement directly or indirectly to charge or collect any fee in excess of the maximum fee, prescribed by the Commissioner of Social Security shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall for each offense be punished by a fine not exceeding $500 or by imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both. The Commissioner of Social Security shall maintain in the electronic information retrieval system used by the Social Security Administration a current record, with respect to any claimant before the Commissioner of Social Security, of the identity of any person representing such claimant in accordance with this subsection.

(b)(1)(A) Whenever a court renders a judgment favorable to a claimant under this title who was represented before the court by an attorney, the court may determine and allow as part of its judgment a reasonable fee for such representation, not in excess of 25 percent of the total of the past-due benefits to which the claimant is entitled by reason of such judgment, and the Commissioner of Social Security may, notwithstanding the provisions of section 205(i), but subject to subsection (d) of this section, certify the amount of such fee for payment to such attorney out of, and not in addition to, the amount of such past-due benefits. In case of any such judgment, no other fee may be payable or certified for payment for such representation except as provided in this paragraph.

(B) For purposes of this paragraph—

(i) the term “past-due benefits” excludes any benefits with respect to which payment has been continued pursuant to subsection (g) or (h) of section 223, and

(ii) amounts of past-due benefits shall be determined before any applicable reduction under section 1127(a).

(2) Any attorney who charges, demands, receives, or collects for services rendered in connection with proceedings before a court to which paragraph (1) is applicable any amount in excess of that allowed by the court thereunder shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be subject to a fine of not more than $500, or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.[92]

(c) The Commissioner of Social Security shall notify each claimant in writing, together with the notice to such claimant of an adverse determination, of the options for obtaining attorneys to represent individuals in presenting their cases before the Commissioner of Social Security. Such notification shall also advise the claimant of the availability to qualifying claimants of legal services organizations which provide legal services free of charge.

(d) Assessment on Attorneys.—

(1) In general.—Whenever a fee for services is required to be certified for payment to an attorney from a claimant’s past-due benefits pursuant to subsection (a)(4) or (b)(1), the Commissioner shall impose on the attorney an assessment calculated in accordance with paragraph (2).

(2) Amount.—

(A) The amount of an assessment under paragraph (1) shall be equal to the product obtained by multiplying the amount of the representative’s fee that would be required to be so certified by subsection (a)(4) or (b)(1) before the application of this subsection, by the percentage specified in subparagraph (B), except that the maximum amount of the assessment may not exceed the greater of $75 or the adjusted amount as provided pursuant to the following two sentences. In the case of any calendar year beginning after the amendments made by section 301 of the Social Security Protection Act of 2003 take effect, the dollar amount specified in the preceding sentence (including a previously adjusted amount) shall be adjusted annually under the procedures used to adjust benefit amounts under section 215(i)(2)(A)(ii), except such adjustment shall be based on the higher of $75 or the previously adjusted amount that would have been in effect for December of the preceding year, but for the rounding of such amount pursuant to the following sentence. Any amount so adjusted that is not a multiple of $1 shall be rounded to the next lowest multiple of $1, but in no case less than $75.

(B) The percentage specified in this subparagraph is—

(i) for calendar years before 2001, 6.3 percent, and

(ii) for calendar years after 2000, such percentage rate as the Commissioner determines is necessary in order to achieve full recovery of the costs of determining and certifying fees to attorneys from the past-due benefits of claimants, but not in excess of 6.3 percent.

(3) Collection.—The Commissioner may collect the assessment imposed on an attorney under paragraph (1) by offset from the amount of the fee otherwise required by subsection (a)(4) or (b)(1) to be certified for payment to the attorney from a claimant’s past-due benefits.

(4) Prohibition on claimant reimbursement.—An attorney subject to an assessment under paragraph (1) may not, directly or indirectly, request or otherwise obtain reimbursement for such assessment from the claimant whose claim gave rise to the assessment.

(5) Disposition of assessments.—Assessments on attorneys collected under this subsection shall be credited to the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund, as appropriate.

(6) Authorization of appropriations.—The assessments authorized under this section shall be collected and available for obligation only to the extent and in the amount provided in advance in appropriations Acts. Amounts so appropriated are authorized to remain available until expended, for administrative expenses in carrying out this title and related laws.

(e)(1) The Commissioner shall provide for the extension of the fee withholding procedures and assessment procedures that apply under the preceding provisions of this section to agents and other persons, other than attorneys, who represent claimants under this title before the Commissioner.

(2) Fee-withholding procedures may be extended under paragraph (1) to any nonattorney representative only if such representative meets at least the following prerequisites:

(A) The representative has been awarded a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education, or has been determined by the Commissioner to have equivalent qualifications derived from training and work experience.

(B) The representative has passed an examination, written and administered by the Commissioner, which tests knowledge of the relevant provisions of this Act and the most recent developments in agency and court decisions affecting this title and title XVI.

(C) The representative has secured professional liability insurance, or equivalent insurance, which the Commissioner has determined to be adequate to protect claimants in the event of malpractice by the representative.

(D) The representative has undergone a criminal background check to ensure the representative’s fitness to practice before the Commissioner.

(E) The representative demonstrates ongoing completion of qualified courses of continuing education, including education regarding ethics and professional conduct, which are designed to enhance professional knowledge in matters related to entitlement to, or eligibility for, benefits based on disability under this title and title XVI. Such continuing education, and the instructors providing such education, shall meet such standards as the Commissioner may prescribe.

(3)(A) The Commissioner may assess representatives reasonable fees to cover the cost to the Social Security Administration of administering the prerequisites described in paragraph (2).

(B) Fees collected under subparagraph (A) shall be credited to the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund, or deposited as miscellaneous receipts in the general fund of the Treasury, based on such allocations as the Commissioner determines appropriate.

(C) The fees authorized under this paragraph shall be collected and available for obligation only to the extent and in the amount provided in advance in appropriations Acts. Amounts so appropriated are authorized to remain available until expended for administering the prerequisites described in paragraph (2).


[91]  See Vol. II, P.L. 108-203, §303, with respect to a nationwide demonstration project providing for extension of fee withholding procedures to non-attorney representatives and §304, with respect to a GAO study regarding the fee payment process for claimant representatives.

[92]  See Vol. II, P.L. 96-481, with respect to an award of attorney fees and other expenses.