Ombudsman adds voice to concerns over plan to scrap Consumer Panel

Print This Post

By Legal Futures

21 October 2010


Sampson: planning for life without the consumer panel

The Legal Ombudsman has added his voice to concerns at plans to merge the Legal Services Consumer Panel into Citizens Advice.

Adam Sampson said the panel is “so important” because it is otherwise hard to gauge consumer views. He warned that if it is rolled into Citizens Advice (see story), he will still “need someone I can talk to who I believe truly represents consumer interests”.

He continued: “Unfortunately, for all its virtues, Citizens Advice cannot do that. In the end, it (like Shelter, which I used to run) is a big organisation offering services to consumers, which is not the same thing at all. Indeed, given that there is every likelihood that Citizens Advice will be one of the bodies which will come within our jurisdiction next year (it too employs lawyers and provides legal advice), it would seem bizarre if I were required to consult that same organisation about the views of consumers.”

He said the ombudsman is “planning ahead” for what it would do if the decision is confirmed.

Legal Services Board chairman David Edmonds has also expressed his concern over the conflict issue (see story).

However, Legal Futures has begun hearing the counter-arguments. The 416 Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) across England and Wales are all independent registered charities and all members of Citizens Advice, the membership organisation – also an independent registered charity – that provides training and support to member CABx, and coordinates national policy work.

This means that Citizens Advice does not give direct advice or legal advice to consumers and as such, it will be individual bureaux that will be regulated under the special body provisions of the Legal Services Act 2007 and not Citizens Advice. Thus, it is argued, there would be no conflict of interest. At the same time, there is the possibility of Citizens Advice applying to become the regulator of the CABx, where the conflict would be unavoidable.

On the positive side, it is argued that Citizens Advice has proven itself a strong voice for consumers, using client evidence from the bureaux to make its case and has a strong record of producing research that has influenced a range of legal policy making, including the legal services reforms. It has also been suggested that as the profession pays for the panel, the merger could reduce the costs levied on lawyers for regulation – although with only two members of staff, the panel does not cost a huge amount.

Tags: , , ,



Leave a comment

* Denotes required field

All comments will be moderated before posting. Please see our Terms and Conditions

Legal Futures Blog

Know your client checks – A lesson from BHS

Paul-Bennett for Legal Futures

As you will be aware, it is a legal requirement for advisory firms to carry out ‘know your client’ checks. The purpose of doing so is to confirm your client’s identity and to seek to provide protection in respect of anti-money laundering (AML) and terrorist financing laws. The BHS experience before the House of Commons’ work and pensions committee and business, innovation and skills committee shows that firms need to think beyond AML obligations.

September 29th, 2016