Proposals to regulate all providers of will-writing and estate administration come a step closer today as the Legal Services Board confirms plans to make the services ‘reserved activities’.
Under proposals published today, designed to provide greater consumer protection, all providers of such services would be regulated. The announcement follows a consultation process launched in July last year. The super-regulator is now expected to recommend to the Lord Chancellor that will-writing and estate administration services should be reserved activities.
According to the proposals, LSB investigations found ‘systemic problems’ with services delivered by some current providers. It found ‘consistent patterns of sloppiness, simple errors and poor communication’, which often resulted in an ‘unacceptable service’.
In addition it found that ‘too often consumers were subjected to unfair sales practices’, fraud and deception.
Alongside the proposals on will-writing and estate administration, the LSB also announced that it will examine other gaps in legal services regulation, starting with general legal advice for individual consumers, and review how and when non-commercial providers of reserved legal services should come within the scope of regulation.
It says the plans are designed to ensure a baseline of protection for consumers; effective regulation; and to enable competition and innovation.
LSB chair David Edmonds said: ‘Making a will is something everyone should do. It is one of the most important actions that individuals take. We all should have a high degree of confidence in those entrusted with the task of writing our wills, advising us on the most appropriate actions, and ensuring that our wishes are carried out.
‘For many people, the service they receive from their lawyer or will-writer meets their needs. But our research shows that there are significant numbers of people receiving poor service and poor outcomes,’ he said.
Edmonds said large parts of the will-writing and estate administration market are working well, but said: ‘We found too many examples of providers, lawyers and will-writers alike, not listening to their clients or being sloppy in their work - meaning those taking the important step of writing a will were also, unfortunately, leaving problems to their beneficiaries.
‘The prevalence of poor sales practices, and indeed the incidence of fraud, was also disappointing.'
Regulation would create ‘a baseline of consumer protection’, he said. ‘This is not about extending regulation for the sake of it - it is about maintaining public confidence in an important legal process, enhancing the environment for reputable providers and protecting consumers at particularly vulnerable times in their lives,’ said Edmonds.
The LSB’s consumer panel, which last month called for regulation, welcomed the decision. Its chair, Elisabeth Davies, said: ‘This is the clearest signal yet that will-writing and estate administration will become regulated. That's great news for consumers, and we are delighted that the LSB’s proposals closely mirror the panel's recommendations.’
However Davies warned that regulation will not happen overnight. ‘That's frustrating, but this makes it vital for everyone - including solicitors - to redouble their efforts to address the evidence of poor-quality wills revealed by the panel's investigation last year,’ she said.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority welcomed the report. Chief executive Antony Townsend said: ‘We've said for some time that we believe all legal activities should be regulated, so we support this move by the LSB. This should improve standards and provide additional protection for consumers. The SRA is willing to undertake the regulation of currently unregulated will-writers, as well as solicitors firms, and to examine how standards of will writing can be improved and better regulated.’
He said: ‘The SRA said in November that all legal activities should be reserved when responding to the LSB consultation. This would address the lack of clarity for consumers about which services are regulated, a lack of consistency in consumer protection and a lack of focus on quality, standards and ethical behaviour.'