Consumer champions are to put renewed pressure on regulators to require firms to publish information about the quality of service provided.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel said the Solicitors Regulation Authority had moved in the ‘right direction’ with its price publication rules. But, in its working programme for the coming year, the panel says it has always intended price transparency and quality indicators to work hand in hand.
Now that one element has been achieved, the panel will focus on drawing attention to what it called the ‘dearth’ of information available on service quality.
‘Without information on quality, price transparency could perpetuate consumers’ misconception that price correlates with quality,’ said the panel. ‘It is imperative that quality and pricing information are seen as a package that consumers need.’
The panel’s research shows legal regulators do little active monitoring of quality or do not publish any assessments they have made. It accepted that there is a general challenge with attempting to articulate, measure, gather and present information on quality in a meaningful way, but: ‘regulators must face the challenge and begin the journey'.
The panel plans to publish a discussion paper drawing on lessons from other sectors, and will host a roundtable event to encourage dialogue.
The SRA has previously discussed the idea of putting firms’ complaints and claims records into the public domain and has been vocal about the benefits of people receiving information about the quality and service they can expect.
Addressing the requirements for price transparency, the panel also notes that there can be ‘gulf’ between the prescription of rules and adherence to them. The SRA is urged to monitor compliance closely and enforce sanctions where firms refuse to comply.
The regulator is in the process of sweeping 500 law firm websites to check that prices are being prominently and clearly presented. Firms found to have taken no steps to comply, deliberately refused to comply, or deliberately provided vague, misleading or meaningless information, could be in line for a rebuke or a fine.