Accountants doing probate work failing on price transparency

Probate: Disappointing take-up of voluntary guidance

Chartered accountants handling probate work are to face compulsory rules on publishing price and service information after their regulator admitted a voluntary approach had not worked.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) this week launched a consultion on a change to its rules for the 300-plus firms of accountants it has authorised to conduct reserved probate work.

The ICAEW, the only legal regulator not to make publication mandatory, described the uptake by its members of voluntary guidance as “disappointing”.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Council for Licensed Conveyancers were the first to introduce compulsory publication of price and service information by law firms in December 2018.

The ICAEW sent a best practice guide on transparency to all probate firms in June 2019.

A page on its website was devoted to transparency and letters were sent to probate firms from the legal services chair of the ICAEW Regulatory Board (IRB) in January this year stressing the need for improvement.

The ICAEW said that “to date, the uptake of the voluntary guidance has been disappointing” and at its meeting in June this year, the IRB considered the results of research and reassessment carried out two months before.

“It noted that whilst the results showed some improvements in disclosures around price and service provision, they were still some way short of acceptable.

“Consequently, it recommended mandating transparency measures through the introduction of regulation.”

The proposed new regulation on price and service transparency would oblige an accredited probate firm “at all times” to publish details of the total fees it charges, or an estimate of the likely fees.

“It must provide an explanation of the basis upon which fees are calculated, for example fixed fee or an hourly rate/time spent. It must provide an explanation of what services are covered by the published fee.”

Every firm must also give a “clear and brief description of the services it offers”, along with details of how clients can complain to the ICAEW or the Legal Ombudsman.

They must state that they are regulated by ICAEW for probate services and have professional indemnity insurance.

“The primary way a firm should display price, service, complaints and redress and regulatory information is by publishing it on its website.

“If it does not have a website, it should publish it on other platforms such as social media, or on request by email or post.”

The ICAEW said the consultation would run for five weeks. After that the feedback would form part of its application to the Legal Services Board to approve the changes to its probate regulations.

“It is the intention of ICAEW to revise and publish the updated regulations effective 1 November 2021.”

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