Businesses offering will-writing and online divorce services should not make misleading comparisons with solicitors in marketing materials, the Competition and Markets Authority says in proposed guidance to crack down on firms breaching consumer protection law.

After announcing a consumer enforcement investigation on unregulated legal services last summer, the CMA today opened a consultation on proposed guidance to help unregulated providers of will-writing, online divorce and pre-paid probate services comply with consumer protection law obligations.

The guidance contains ‘do and don’t’ checklists for will-writing and divorce.

The will-writing checklist states that providers should give consumers the total cost of the service being marketed. ‘Don’t make misleading comparisons when marketing your services, for example by comparing the (higher) cost of a bespoke service provided by a solicitor with your (lower) cost, omitting the relevant fact that the higher cost reflects a very different service,’ the guidance states. 

Online divorce

The CMA guidance contains ‘do and don’t’ checklists for will-writing and divorce

Source: iStock

The guidance contains case studies. One is about a business’s misleading claim regarding the involvement of solicitors and regulatory oversight; the CMA suggests what a compliant statement might look like.

With online divorce, providers are told not to make misleading comparisons with competing services where the service is not comparable – for instance, comparing the lower cost of a limited, generic online divorce service with the cost of engaging a family solicitor without making clear the differences between the two.

The guidance contains a case study on an online divorce provider advertising a complete online divorce service for only £180, with the divorce being handled by a team supervised by qualified solicitors. The CMA says the ‘only £180’ omits the £593 court fee and gives people the impression they are receiving the benefit of a solicitor’s legal advice when in reality there is no client relationship between the client and solicitor.

Welcoming the consultation, Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: 'We share the concerns raised by the CMA about possible breaches of consumer protection law such as misleading advertising, pressure selling and coercion of vulnerable customers. 

'Although will-writing itself is not a regulated service, consumers face potential risks when using unregulated will writers or services. This may result in writing a will that is not legally valid. In this case, your estate will not be inherited exactly as you wish. Regulated will-writing offers peace of mind to both you and your loved ones.'   

The consultation closes on 13 June.


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