The Solicitors Regulation Authority took a record 16 months and 26 days to process the alternative business structure application of personal injury firm Minster Law, it has emerged.
Outgoing Minster chairman Adrian Christmas told the Gazette that he applied to gain ABS status on 3 January 2012 – the day the SRA began accepting applications.
The application was finally granted on 29 May this year after regulators agreed to a takeover of the firm by insurance company BGL Group for an undisclosed sum. BGL also owns the Compare the Market comparison website.
Minster and BGL have enjoyed a long working relationship which has included the payment of fees for personal injury cases.
Christmas denied the SRA had taken so long over the application because of concerns about compliance relating to the ban on referral fees which came into force in April.
‘It has taken 18 months to get over the line because of the complex ownership structure,’ said Christmas. ‘Discussions about the ABS were happening long before the ban.
‘[The SRA] is seeking out people who sell details to lawyers. We don’t buy claims – we pay for servicing a book of customers and whether they turn into claims is a matter of luck on their front.’
As the sole shareholder of Minster’s holding company and joint director of the firm, Christmas stands to receive millions from the sale. He estimated that Minster, which was founded in 2006, accounts for up to 15% of personal injury work carried out in England and Wales.
The firm has offices in York and Wakefield and employs more than 800 people, of whom 200 are fee-earners. It handled more than 40,000 PI claims in the last financial year and more than doubled profits, to £3.8m.