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Regulators commit to addressing will-writing concerns

11 August 2010

The Legal Services Board and the Office of Fair Trading have committed to considering the possibility of regulating will-writing services.

During a workshop held on 26 July, the minutes of which were only published on the LSB’s website earlier this week, both organisations accepted the lack of regulation could present a risk for consumers.

The workshop brought together representatives of the legal profession as well as non-regulated will-writing organisations such as the Fellowship of Professional Willwriters, the Society of Will Writers and LawPack Publishing.

Following the workshop the LSB’s consumer panel will now investigate options for ensuring adequate consumer protection, including whether will writing should be brought within the remit of reserved activities.

This latter course is the one taken in the Legal Services (Scottish) Bill, which is going through Parliament in Scotland at the moment.

No specific timescale has been provided, with only the need for further research and consumer panel advice allowed to “drive the longer timetable”.

The research is expected to include mystery shopping, structured interviews with consumers and interviews with providers.

It is anticipated that any move would seek to be compatible with developments in Scotland and would be made in time for the opening of the legal services market to alternative business structures.

Calls for regulation were acknowledged by the LSB in its 2009-10 business plan, which contained an undertaking to explore “the consumer impact of apparent ‘gaps’ in the regulatory system, for example in relation to will writing, where there may be fine judgements to be made between the desirability of extra consumer protection and the adverse impact of possibly higher cost”.

The super-regulator has now said it would start reviewing the question of reserved legal activities in the autumn, including whether a legal activity should be reserved or regulated at all, with will writing given priority.

“The present arrangements, which have grown up in a haphazard way over several centuries, do not reflect the realities of consumer protection in a diverse legal market,” it said in a release. “Because of concerns expressed about will writing, the LSB is looking at the case for regulation in this area on a more rapid timetable.”

Workshop attendees included:

Speakers: Crispin Passmore (chair) (Legal Services Board), Steve Brooker (Legal Services Consumer Panel) and Mark Pratt (Office of Fair Trading).

Delegates: Simon Blandy (Council for Licensed Conveyancers) Rita Leat, Gareth Richards (Fellowship of Professional Willwriters and Probate Practitioners), Ian Grant (Fellowship Professional Standards Board), Paul Sharpe (Institute of Professional Willwriters), Thomas Coles (LawPack Publishing), Mark Stobbs, Amy McCann (Law Society), Chris Handford, Alex Roy (Legal Services Board), Jeff Bell, Alanna Linn (Legal Services Consumer Panel), Russell Bramley (Ministry of Justice), David Stallibrass (Office of Fair Trading), Scott Devine (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners), Brian MacMillan (Society of Will Writers) and Cathy Neal (Which?).

Categorised in:

Risk & Compliance Regulators Legal Aid Wills, Trusts & Probate