The Solicitors Regulation Authority has insisted its licensing process has improved since oversight regulators expressed ‘increasing concerns’ about the number of applicants for ABS status dropping out, it has emerged.

Minutes from the Legal Services Board meeting held in November – published today – reveal disquiet about the number of applications withdrawn.

The report to the board by the SRA showed a total of 217 applications had been approved, of which 128 were granted between January and October last year.

But during the same period the SRA closed 62 applications because they had been withdrawn. In total 34 applications have been pulled since the authorisation process opened in January 2012 after being worked on for between six and 12 months.

The Gazette understands talks have since been held between the Legal Services Board and SRA with fuller reasons given for the figures.

The LSB bars the public and press from board meetings. Minutes are published only around six weeks later, which means the outcome of any talks between the regulators has still to be revealed.

An SRA spokesperson said: ‘A number of ABS applicants drop out of the process, and we understand that the LSB is concerned about this and have discussed it with them in our regular meetings. 

‘We engage with applicants to find out their reasons for withdrawal and have undertaken some research to understand their experience of the licensing process more broadly.’ 

He added that typically reasons for withdrawal include:

  • Ineligibility for licensing
  • Changes in an applicant’s circumstances
  • Expectations not being met about the length of time the approval process takes
  • A change in business strategy

The LSB board heard no reasons for the withdrawals in November but did note the time taken to complete the process, with discussions about SRA efforts to clear the ‘backlog’ of applications awaiting authorisation.

Monthly meetings were being held with the SRA director of authorisations, who promised improvements within three months, although resources targeted at clearing the backlog could affect more recently received applications.

According to figures supplied to the board by the SRA, it takes an average of seven months from the submission of a second stage application for a firm to be granted an ABS licence, with one-fifth of applicants waiting more than nine months for approval.

Up to October 2013, 44% of applicants were granted a licence within six months. The SRA has now licensed 246 ABSs including 14 in the first six weeks of 2014.