Justice secretary Chris Grayling has today rebuffed a recommendation from super-regulator the Legal Services Board that will-writing should be regulated.
In a Ministry of Justice statement, he said that an LSB report claiming that there is ‘consumer detriment’ in the will-writing market did not adequately demonstrate that bringing will-writing activities within the definition of reserved legal activities is the ‘best solution’.
Grayling added: ‘To ensure that the costs/burdens of increased regulation are not imposed unnecessarily, further efforts should be made to see if [alternative] measures can be made more effective before resorting to reservation.’
He suggested more targeted guidance for the legal profession and the strengthening of existing regulation of authorised persons, combined with voluntary regulation schemes and codes of practice for non-authorised providers. He also called for better consumer education and greater use of existing consumer protections.
The LSB recommended in February that will-writing activities, but not estate administration, should be regulated – the first time it has recommended bringing new activities within the scope of the Legal Services Act.
The Law Society, which originally lobbied for the ‘holy trinity’ of wills, estate administration and power of attorney to be regulated, reacted to today’s decision with dismay.
Desmond Hudson, chief executive, said: ‘Consumers have been let down by this deeply disappointing decision. We provided plenty of evidence to the LSB, demonstrating that consumers are at real risk from certain unregulated will-writers who can be incompetent, untrained and uninsured.
‘Thanks to the government’s decision today, unregulated providers can carry on writing wholly unsuitable wills, leaving consumers without any recourse when things go wrong as a result.
‘Until the government changes its minds on this, the only sensible choice for consumers is to have a solicitor to write your will, and to ensure a solicitor is chosen to administer the estate of your loved one. A solicitor is qualified and brings the comfort of an unrivalled regulatory and compensation system to put right any errors.’
Client watchdog the Legal Services Consumer Panel also condemned the decision. Chair Elisabeth Davies said: 'This decision is extremely disappointing news for consumers and makes no sense given the sheer weight of evidence of consumer detriment and the wide consensus backing regulation.
'Anti-regulation dogma has triumphed over what is in the best interests of consumers.'
LSB chair David Edmonds said he was disappointed, adding: ‘The LSB will work with MoJ officials, consumer groups, providers and other stakeholders to ensure that the issues are tackled and that consumers’ confidence in the market for will-writing services is increased.’
The Solicitors Regulation Authority supported the LSB’s proposal for the regulation of will-writing ‘as a first step in a broader rationalisation of regulation of legal activities to provide protection and clarity for consumers’, SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said.
‘We will carefully consider the implications of the government's decision,’ he added.
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) and its regulatory body ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) said the decision failed to recognise both the evidence provided by the LSB in support of the application, and the attempts over the last decade to voluntarily regulate will writers and educate the public.
CILEx president Nick Hanning said: ‘The government’s suggestion of a voluntary code will not guarantee the protection consumers would get compared to making will-writing a reserved activity. The result of this decision will be an uneven playing field between unregulated companies and regulated professionals, such as CILEx members; and such a situation can only be contrary to the interests of the public.’
IPS chair Alan Kershaw agreed: ‘Voluntary regulation has been attempted before and has not succeeded. It creates confusion by presenting the public with a plethora of varying standards, and offers no redress to consumers who are let down by a person who has opted not to subscribe to published standards of conduct and practice.
‘Consumers deserve will-writers who are competent, professional, and held to proper standards. Chartered Legal Executives, and other members of CILEx who work in this field, will continue to be subject to the highest training and professional standards, and can be trusted by the public because of the client protection arrangements they must have in place.’