… as Saga expands into fixed-fee private client services and bids for ABS status too

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3 October 2012


Ramsden: ABS licence will provide maximum flexibility

Over-50s specialist Saga has today launched a new range of legal services which it claims aims to make the market “more straightforward in terms of charges, language and accessibility” – and has also applied for an alternative business structure (ABS) licence.

A supporting survey of 9,229 over-50s, conducted by Populus, recorded that only 4% believe that the legal services market is fine as it is, while 81% wanted to see fixed fees.

The company’s chief executive told Legal Futures that the “power of a brand” such as Saga is recognition and reassurance.

Saga, which has 2.7m members, first entered the legal market two years ago with an online document assembly service provided by Epoq, with Parabis – which became an ABS in August – sitting behind it for any advice that was required.

Saga Legal Solutions is still managed by Parabis but now offers will-writing, probate, powers of attorney and conveyancing; the conveyancing is provided by Stoke firm Grindeys and Stockport-based O’Neill Patient, with more firms to be added to the panel as required by the volume of work. In the event of demand for more complex work, then Saga will consider how to resource this.

All work will be done on fixed fees. Conveyancing is charged at a flat rate, while probate fees will depend on the complexity of the estate rather than the value.

Saga has also launched a legal expenses insurance product called Legal Essentials. For a price starting at £30 a month, it gives policyholders access to a 24-hour legal advice line, a free online standard will, free access to an online vault to deposit digital copies of wills and other important documents, a 20% discount on Saga’s other legal services, and up to £100,000 to cover the costs of legal proceedings relating to contract disputes, death and personal injury, protection of property, employment and tax investigations.

The survey also revealed that two-thirds of over-50s called for letters and documents to be written in plain English rather than legal jargon, while 60% said solicitors and other providers of legal services should offer more value for money. At the same time, only one in six people said they would not be sure who to go to if they needed legal advice in the future, while a third say they worry about the risk of high costs.

Roger Ramsden, the chief executive of Saga Services, told Legal Futures that while Saga does not currently need to become an ABS, the application aims to give the company “maximum flexibility” for the future.

Surveys have often suggested that the over-50s is a group that prefers face-to-face advice, but Mr Ramsden argued that this is actually shorthand for them wanting “transparency and clarity” in their dealing with lawyers which is currently lacking.

“This is a significant opportunity for us because our customers are saying they find it difficult to navigate the market… The power of [our] brand is in recognition and reassurance.”

Mr Ramsden said the current market is stacked in favour of the provider rather than the consumer: “People want legal advice and products at a price they understand, can afford and that is agreed in advance. They want a clearer idea of what it is they are paying for; legal issues are complicated and the jargon used by the industry prevents many people from understanding the process.

“Finally, they want a decent service; all too often customers have to chase solicitors for action and updates and this shouldn’t be the case. It is our intention to address those needs and to make legal services more accessible and affordable to a great many more people.”

He said there had been an “incredible response” to an initial mailing to a few hundred customers about the new service. “We have had to secure extra people to answer the phones in order to ensure we can keep on top of demand.”

 

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