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Lord chancellor refuses to make will writing a reserved activity

No evidence reservation the most appropriate solution to address consumer detriment without investigating alternatives, Grayling says

16 May 2013

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No evidence reservation the most appropriate solution to address consumer detriment without investigating alternatives, Grayling says

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has failed to demonstrate that tightening the regulation of will writing was the most appropriate way of addressing consumer detriment in the market, the lord chancellor said as he decided not to make it a reserved activity.

Most observers expected the Ministry of Justice to rubber-stamp the LSB's recommendation made in September 2012 that the law should be changed to make both will writing and estate administration reserved activities.

In a statement released this week, Chris Grayling said the board's report "did not adequately demonstrate that reservation is the best solution, or that alternative measures have been sufficiently exhausted in seeking to address this detriment".

Both the LSB and the Consumer Panel expressed disappointment but said they would work with stakeholders to increase confidence in the market.

The secretary of state explained his decision saying that before increasing the regulatory burden on providers, "further efforts should be made to see if such measures can be made more effective, before resorting to reservation".

This could include "more targeted guidance for the legal profession and strengthening of existing regulation of authorised persons in this area, combined with voluntary regulation schemes and codes of practice for non-authorised providers".

Grayling also suggested there could be "greater efforts made to educate consumers on the different types of provider and their respective protection and options for redress, as well as greater use of existing consumer protection".

Consumer confidence

LSB chair David Edmonds said the super-regulator would work with Ministry of Justice 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 onus is now on both regulated and unregulated providers of will-writing services to improve standards and thereby earn consumer and public confidence."

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Consumer Panel, which has been a strong advocate of reservation, found the decision "extremely disappointing" and "made no sense given the sheer weight of evidence of consumer detriment and the wide consensus backing regulation".

"Major doubts have already been expressed about whether self-regulation will work and even the will-writing trade bodies have conceded this is unlikely to succeed. If this is the only option then we'll do all we can to make this work for the benefit of consumers," she said.

The Law Society added its voice to the disappointment saying consumers had been let down. Chief executive Desmond Hudson said: "Thanks to the government's decision, 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."

Categorised in:

Legal services Wills, Trusts & Probate