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Will writing could become reserved activity by March 2012

13 December 2010

The Legal Services Board is to roll out its first will-writing mystery shopper initiative amid a range of other investigations into core high street interests.

The mystery shopping, to be carried out by IFF Research on behalf of the LSB and its consumer panel, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Office of Fair Trading, is due to start with a pilot study in January.

The LSB said it expected to hear back from the consumer panel between July and September next year, before considering whether to ask the Lord Chancellor to make will writing a reserved activity under the Legal Services Act some time between October and December 2011. A full consultation would then follow in early 2012 with a view to reaching a final decision around March 2012.

Victoria House is now looking for 100 consumers to take part in the will-writing exercise, with 40 seeking to use a solicitor, 40 a will writer, and 20 who would like to do it themselves using a paper-based or online DIY kit.

LSB corporate affairs director Julie Myers said: “Self-completion wills is a growing service area and is seen by many as an accessible and good value option – it’s therefore an important component of understanding the consumer experience of wills. As this is a route currently not as widely used as solicitors or will writers, the sample size is smaller.”

The wills will be assessed by a panel made up of a dozen lawyers, evenly split between solicitors and will writers, with assessors expected to look at 20 wills each.

Within 24 hours of publishing its call for volunteers, the LSB had already received more expressions of interest than the minimum ten it was aiming for, according to Myers. A range of solicitors and will writers based on a mix of experience, type of organisation and geographical location have now been selected.

“The reviewing panel will be asked to study the will and consider whether the will is fit for purpose given the individual’s expressed circumstances. It will not be looking to assess whether the ‘ideal’ will has been written – but rather whether it is fit for purpose,” said Myers.

She added the LSB would also look at whether any service issues are evident through interviews that IFF will carry out with consumers.

The regulation of will writing is only one of a number of concerns the LSB promises to address in its 2010/11 business plan. The super regulator is also looking at two other areas of particular concern to high street firms: referral fees and conveyancing.

The LSB’s consultation on referral fees begins with the assumption that there is no need for an outright ban and advocates instead full transparency. The latest plan suggests that not much is likely to happen in the short term.

“Once we have analysed and reported on responses to our current discussion paper, we will consider what, if any, action is needed,” the board said.

But Victoria House appears more determined to press on with research into the heart of the high street: conveyancing. Supporting the SRA’s forthcoming consultation, it said: “We need to deepen our understanding of this area in order to assess the extent to which legal services regulation might be an appropriate vehicle though which to tackle harm and, if so, whether change is needed in either the regulatory framework and/or its application.”

But it gave little in the way of specific action, saying “in view of this, we will start a piece of work to gather and review evidence to inform further action. Based on this we will consider whether further scrutiny work is necessary.”

The SRA confirmed last week that it would initiate the research in the new year following its proposal to remove mortgage-backed property work from lawyers’ minimum insurance terms.

Categorised in:

Regulators Wills, Trusts & Probate Vulnerable Clients