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SRA rule change will increase choice but harm consumer
Thursday 05 July 2012 by John Hyde
Choice is a wonderful thing. Living near Olympic Park I can currently choose between looking at adverts for Coke or McDonalds.
Neither is likely, I imagine, to boost my chances of qualification for the 2016 Games. But what if increased choice means increased access to harmful options? Am I empowered by choice or being lead blindly into a minefield of fraught alternatives?
Currently, on a visit to a solicitor, choice is severely restricted. If clients need to be referred for financial advice (and those awarded damages, arranging mortgages or requiring after-the-event insurance usually are), the solicitor must pass clients on to an independent financial adviser. To me it’s a system that ensures impartiality and choice, but is seemingly not good enough for the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
This week it was confirmed that the regulator is consulting on scrapping the rule preventing lawyers from referring clients to advisers contracted to selling the products of one or more provider. A consultation it may be, but the noises are all suggesting this is a done deal.
As an SRA spokesman told us this week: ‘We believe solicitors, as highly qualified professionals, should have the freedom to assess the need and discuss this with the client, not be restricted by a prescriptive rule.’ Hardly screams ‘open mind’, does it. This is a measure driven by choice that will ultimately harm the freedom of the consumer.
In what possible regard will it be to the client’s advantage to be referred to an adviser with an ulterior motive? An adviser, lest we forget, who benefits from willfully ignoring any product that does not line their own pocket. That’s not freedom, that’s a legitimised cartel.
And what of the solicitor’s code of conduct? Mandatory principles insist on a proper standard of service and for lawyers to act in the best interests of their client. How exactly are these principles served by referring clients onto advisers on the take?
After washing its hands of the trainee minimum salary in May, the SRA continues its curious mission to deregulate aspects that are actually of some use.
As consumers we want independent, impartial advice - not to be railroaded into decisions that might not be in our best interest. If the SRA wants to give me choice, I’ll happily choose the status quo, thanks very much.
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