The Solicitors Regulation Authority is to go back on the hunt for firms flouting transparency rules after the ending of a Covid-related hiatus on disciplinary action.
Chief executive Paul Philip today confirmed that following a temporary pause of this work during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, work to assess levels of compliance will now resume.
In his monthly update to the SRA board, Philip says that a survey of 470 firms in July had indicated that compliance levels are improving but a ‘small minority’ have either ignored enquiries or not provided sufficient assurance.
He added: ‘We will be following these issues up over the coming weeks and will make further referrals into our disciplinary procedures if required. We will also be writing to further cohorts of firms over the next four months to assess ongoing levels of compliance.’
Since 2018, regulated firms have been required to publish cost information for conveyancing, immigration, employment and road traffic offences work, as well as employment, licensing and debt recovery work (up to a value of £100,000) offered to businesses.
Costs information must include the basis for charges, including any hourly rates or fixed fees, and the experience and qualifications of anyone carrying out the work. It must be published in a ‘prominent place’ on firm websites.
The SRA has already made web-sweeps of firms’ websites and contacted firms where it found evidence of non-compliance. This has also resulted in a small number of firms being subject to disciplinary procedures for persistent non-compliance, where the regulator has imposed internal sanctions including fines and rebukes.
The wider context of the transparency rules is the Competition and Markets Authority report in 2016 which found that consumers of legal services were not given enough material to make an informed choice about which provider to choose. With the CMA returning this year for another look at the legal sector, the SRA will be keen to show not only that it has amended its rules in response to the first report but also that it is prepared to take action where those rules are flouted.