Will-writing should be reserved, super-regulator recommends

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Will-writing, estate administration and probate should only be carried out by regulated legal professionals to give greater protection to consumers, the Legal Services Board has proposed.

Following a consultation, the board said today that it will recommend to the lord chancellor that the services should be made reserved activities. This means they could only be done by solicitors, barristers and legal executives or others who are regulated by an approved regulator within the meaning of the Legal Services Act 2007.

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The LSB said that existing regulation should be improved and better targeted, with approved regulators specifically designated to regulate the newly reserved activities.

But it added that new regulation must be ‘proportionate, risk-based and flexible’, in order to enable a variety of different types of providers to continue to provide services.

The LSB will conduct a final consultation on its draft proposals, which will run until 8 November. It expects to make final recommendations to the lord chancellor in early 2013. The LSB stressed that the final decision on whether to make the change is for the lord chancellor.

LSB chair David Edmonds said: ‘Lives can be seriously damaged by incompetence or misdemeanour in drafting a will or administering an estate. This will be the first recommendation by the board to bring new legal activities within the regulatory scope of the 2007 act. It is not a step we take lightly. It will be targeted and proportionate.

‘This is about achieving better regulation – to support innovation and competition; to deliver consistent consumer protection; and ultimately to improve consumer confidence to choose and use legal services.’

Welcoming the LSB’s proposals, Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: ‘We are pleased that the LSB shares our concerns regarding consumer protection in this area. We urge the LSB and government to proceed swiftly to ensure that in will-writing, estate administration and probate, consumers are protected from bad advice and untrained providers.’

The Law Society has for some years campaigned to warn the public of the dangers of using unregulated will-writers who are not properly qualified.

Scott-Moncrieff added: ‘Without regulation, there is not enough protection for consumers from poor-quality advice, or in the worst cases unscrupulous advisors – with a real risk of painful and expensive consequences.’

However, the Society expressed the hope that the LSB would not confuse the need for professionalism with a desire for competition, warning that regulators competing to be the most attractive body for providers could result in lower standards.

Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel Elisabeth Davies also welcomed the move, saying it would give 'much-needed peace of mind' to consumers.

She said: 'Our evidence has revealed poor standards of will-writing and sales practices that are leaving consumers seriously out of pocket.

'There's a powerful consensus of support for this move and it's striking how representatives of consumer groups, charities, solicitors and will-writing businesses are all convinced that regulation is needed.

'The message is clear – consumers are already suffering and the LSB's proposals need to be acted on without any delay.'

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