CMA targets will-writing, online divorce and probate services
The UK's Competition and Markets Authority has launched an investigation into potential consumer law breaches in unregulated legal services.
The CMA announced on 24 July that it wants to to hear about people’s experiences with companies offering these services, over concerns that not all are complying with consumer protection law.
In a press release, the agency said:
"When it comes to legal services, customers now have many alternatives to the conventional law firms on the high street, especially for services where the adviser does not need to be a solicitor. Alternative providers very often offer services that are innovative and convenient for consumers, and that can be cheaper too. But where they are unregulated, it becomes all the more important that normal consumer protection laws are complied with and, if necessary, enforced.
Initial research by the CMA has identified three main areas of concern involving potential risk to customers and possible breaches of consumer protection law:
- Will-writing - anyone can legally write a will and, although many are drafted by regulated lawyers, will-writing itself is not a regulated service.
- Pre-paid probate plans - a new development in the market where customers pay set fees upfront for probate (which is the legal process of managing someone’s estate when they die). They do so in the hope that, following their death, their families will not be required to pay anything else.
- Online divorce - these so-called ‘quickie’ divorce services have grown in popularity since the covid-19 lockdown.
The CMA is also concerned that, if a company ceases to operate, there is a risk that customers’ money or important documents, such as their will, may be lost.
Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: "These services are essential to people, often at the most challenging times in their lives. The CMA is aware that rising living costs mean people are watching their spending, so shopping around for a more affordable option is attractive and sometimes a necessity.
"These may not be frequent purchases, but they are life-changing. That’s why it’s so important that we investigate so that people can select the right legal service for them – for divorce or probate or will-writing – with confidence. It’s essential that firms get the basics right, including complying with general consumer law which applies to all traders. Customers must get a fair deal."
The CMA will now write to a number of firms that offer these services in order to seek further information about their practices.