LSB pushes price transparency agenda onto frontline regulators
Compulsory price information and major role for comparison websites at heart of consumer-driven plan
Frontline regulators should increase pressure on legal services providers to publish price information and engage with comparison websites, the Legal Services Board has said in its plan giving effect to recommendations made by the Competition and Markets Authority in December last year.
‘The LSB has long been clear that there is a need to increase competition in the market and a major part of achieving this will be to ensure there is better information available for consumers in relation to price, quality, redress, and regulation,’ said LSB chief executive Neil Buckley (pictured). ‘The conclusions reached by the CMA are in line with the LSB’s own.’
The plan has also been described as ‘helpful’ by Law Society president Robert Bourns, who said helping clients make informed choices was ‘at the heart of every solicitor’s practice’.
‘People need relevant information and there has to be a much more concerted drive at public legal education so people understand the real value of seeking advice from a solicitor,’ said Bourns, pointing out that the society has already developed a transparency toolkit for solicitors.
As the supervisory regulator, the LSB will use four high-level outcomes to monitor frontline regulators’ own plans to implement a series of wide-ranging transparency objectives. These will include specific action to help consumers understand what they are buying and to enable them to compare providers, whether these are regulated or not.
For each of the outcomes, an annex to the plan details indicative evidence of the types of activities undertaken by frontline regulators to show they are taking appropriate action, along with the types of market change that the LSB expects will take place as a result. Another annex contains a template for each regulator to follow.
Under the first outcome, regulators will be expected to make it a regulatory requirement for lawyers to publish information on price, service levels, redress, and regulatory status. They should also set out what measures they propose to take against providers who fail to comply with the new requirements.
The LSB also calls for the development of ‘badges’ to denote the regulatory status of providers, although no further information is given as to how this would relate to regulatory status or other quality marks such as CQS or STEP qualifications. The LSB merely emphasises further on that frontline regulators will need to be mindful of the difference between minimum standards of behaviour, which are a regulatory function, and ‘accreditation schemes’, which rest with representative bodies.
The other three outcomes are: promoting the use of independent feedback platforms to help consumers compare providers; facilitating the development of ‘a dynamic intermediary market’ by making data accessible to comparison websites; and increasing the quality of information available to consumers so they can identify their legal needs and the type of legal service provider (both regulated and unregulated) that can help them.
Regulators will be expected to publish action plans by 30 June, as suggested by the CMA. This will allow the LSB to review their ‘sufficiency’ over the summer.
The super regulator will design a specific assessment process separate from the regulatory performance framework which it currently uses to monitor frontline regulators’ activities. This will result in an indication – not a grade, the LSB said – of whether the proposed plans are sufficient, insufficient but with limited areas of concern, or insufficient and with significant areas of concern.
Jean-Yves Gilg is editor in chief at Solicitors Journal