All clients of wills and probate services should have access to redress for poor-quality service, the Legal Ombudsman says today.
And the ombudsman renewed calls for regulators and representative bodies to work together to solve the issues caused by unreserved activity.
Wills and probate accounted for 13% of the 8,000 complaints resolved last year, most about costs, delays and a failure on the part of the lawyer to follow instructions. A remedy was required in 72% of all complaints made.
A further 180,000 wills were written last year by non-lawyers, but these consumers were not entitled to complain to the ombudsman if they were unhappy.
Chief ombudsman Adam Sampson (pictured) today suggested a voluntary scheme for unregulated providers to opt in to and provide customers with the reassurance of a safety net if things go wrong.
‘Some people will have access to help if things go wrong, while others won’t,’ said Sampson.
‘Failing a move to regulate all will-writers; we want the government to at least consider a voluntary ombudsman scheme into which service providers can opt themselves. Provision already exists for the lord chancellor to make this happen.’
A report by the ombudsman said this level of protection was the ‘bare minimum’ consumers should expect.
The idea has the support of the Society of Will Writers, which represents around 2,000 practitioners in England and Wales. The group said a voluntary scheme could offer ‘real consumer protection’.
A report by the ombudsman said all wills and probate providers could better manage client and beneficiary expectations by avoiding misleading promotions and marketing and being clear about potential costs and timescales.
The report says the most beneficial option remains to make will-writing, probate and estate administration a completely reserved activity – a move rejected by the justice secretary Chris Grayling last year.
A regulatory requirement for providers to sign up to the ombudsman scheme would remove the possibility of a lay person attempting any estate administration or will-writing.
The voluntary plan is acknowledged as offering ‘interim protection’ but is the most likely option at present.