"Door is open" on regulation of will-writing, Kenny says

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6 June 2014


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Will-writing: decision not to regulate a “missed opportunity”

The government may look again at the question of whether to regulate will-writing, the chief executive of the Legal Services Board (LSB) has indicated.

In recently released LSB papers, Chris Kenny said that a reply to LSB correspondence from justice minister Shailesh Vara “interestingly seems to leave open the door for further consideration of the will-writing issue in due course”.

Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor, this time last year. Instead he called for stronger voluntary regulation schemes and codes of practice.

It is believed that while the Ministry of Justice backed will-writer regulation, it could not gather support from across government.

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In March this year David Edmonds, then chairman of the LSB, wrote to Mr Vara to update him on progress towards improved regulation.

In the letter, Mr Edmonds said the LSB had declined to issue “targeted guidance” on the issue to front-line regulators, as suggested by the Ministry of Justice, as this would be “akin to treating will-writing activities as reserved activities”.

However, he said the LSB had written to regulators telling them that they should identify areas of high risk for consumers and “target regulatory oversight on the riskiest firms and practices”.

Mr Edmonds said he had reminded regulators of the LSB’s research on will-writing, which “found a range of quality problems and general ‘sloppiness’” and was reviewing their responses.

“Given the government’s decision, we have no responsibility or power over the unregulated will-writing market. However, my board has taken an initial lead in encouraging industry to take steps to raise standards among unregulated will-writing providers.”

Mr Edmonds said that, at an industry roundtable convened by the LSB earlier this year, “two of the leading trade bodies agreed to look into ways to exclude incompetent and dishonest firms from operating in the market”.

The former LSB chair said one of the issues raised at the event was whether amendments to the EU directive on electronic signatures would allow the Probate Service registry to accept electronic wills. “This is important because the will registry serves as an important depository for wills and is particularly useful for consumers who use unregulated providers.”

Mr Edmonds said the LSB had also written to parliamentarians “engaged in will-writing issues” to tell them that while the LSB was encouraging the industry to pursue non-regulatory approaches to improve standards, it was “up to the industry to pursue these initiatives themselves”.

He added that it remained the LSB’s view that the government’s decision not to regulate will-writing “does represent a missed opportunity to both raise standards and to foster confidence in a more innovative and competitive market”.

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One Response to “"Door is open" on regulation of will-writing, Kenny says”

  1. I don’t think that there has ever been any doubt that the government will look again at the subject of regulating will writing sometime in the future, if only to appease the Law Society!
    But to simply regulate for the sake of regulation is in, my view, totally unacceptable; that said I do strongly recommend that will writers should be licenced, the question is how?
    Licensing would offer the profession a real boost because regulatory bodies could set educational standards and ensure professionals maintain current levels of training needed to safeguard the consumer.
    Whilst the Society of Will Writers (SWW) supported the LSB’s call for regulation, we were never comfortable with the level of regulation that was being proposed, their approach to regulation left no room for maneuvered in what is a very small profession, and a very young one at that.
    To go for full regulation at the outset, without really knowing what the problems are would drive costs up, put good people out of business and put wills further out of reach financially for the majority of consumers. Especially at a time when the need for a will have never been greater.
    The Scottish Executive had the right idea when they introduced licencing, although it has yet to be enforced, which would ensure that all will writers providing wills for gain in Scotland would be licenced and they would obtain their licence via their membership of approved bodies, such as the SWW which would have kept the costs down as it could be part of their membership and these ‘awarding bodies’ would report directly to the Scottish Executive.
    The scheme received industry wide support in Scotland as both workable and affordable to both will writers and the consumer, and relatively easy to set up as both the SWW and the IPW carry out much of the requirements as a standard membership requirement.
    It is the view of the SWW’s Board that such a scheme could be created in England and Wales using the resources already available to it, quickly and effectively and with the support of LeO it would give the necessary consumer protection without pushing up costs unreasonably.
    The SWW on more than one occasion broached the subject of such a licensing scheme with the LSB but the ideas were rejected.
    Following on from the industry roundtable meeting in January, the SWW put forward a proposal that the trade bodies need to work together more when a member is expelled (or they ‘walk’) ensuring that they cannot simply change organisations when they disagreed with the findings following a complaint etc. Unfortunately incompetence and dishonesty is something that only comes to light much later and usually when the damage has been done.
    As agreed at the meeting the SWW has stepped up its training and range of courses, embraced social networking as an instant means of imparting information to both our members and the general public. The annual CPD hours has been increased to 16 hours structured CPD and a further 8 hours unstructured for all members.
    All members of the SWW are required to hold PII to a minimum of £2m, and most carry up to £2.5m, and failure to comply will mean their membership is suspended or revoked until it’s sorted.
    The SWW provides to all its full members, free technical help and support which encourages them to use it if in any doubt.
    All our tutors, under the College of Will Writing delivering courses are drawn from STEP and the legal profession and specialists in their own field, and in January this year the SWW and College took the bold step to introduce our own specialist centre in Lincoln for the sole purpose of providing courses to will writers.
    The SWW through the College has been providing both residential and distance learning courses to will writers for 20 years and since the opening of the Lincoln centre the attendance at courses have exceeded all our expectations.

  2. Thomas Stansfield on June 17th, 2014 at 12:30 pm

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