Consumer panel calls for standardised information to help consumers

Chambers: Information not always have the desired effect

The Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) has called on all the regulators to consider how information providers give to consumers can be standardised.

The LSCP highlighted the price of conveyancing services and complaints information as areas where standardisation was most needed.

Its report, Standardisation of consumer information in legal services, is the latest stage in the push to make it easier for consumers to shop around for and compare lawyers.

It described standardisation as a “tool infrequently used in legal services regulation”, despite its relevance to transparency and better consumer engagement.

“The panel is not advocating for all information remedies [information regulators require or encourage their regulated communities to provide] to be standardised. Indeed, we accept that regulation requires flexibility.

“However, in areas where it is important for consumers to comprehend or to compare what is on offer, and in areas of significant potential consumer harm, standardisation should be considered as a tool to help consumers understand the choice or change.”

The LSCP called on regulators to “agree a format or template for pricing common services” to help consumers compare them.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers and CILEx Regulation, all of which regulate conveyancing, had “made progress in mandating for price transparency”, but it was “still difficult” to compare prices.

The panel urged them to “work together on some form of standardisation which sets out what is chargeable in a conveyancing transaction, agree the terms for the charges and even how it ought to be set out”.

On complaints, the LSCP said all regulated law firms were required to inform consumers of their right to make a complaint, and when to escalate it to the Legal Ombudsman.

“Yet we have evidence that the sector has one of the highest numbers of silent sufferers (consumers who are dissatisfied with their service but do not complain).

“Moreover, we have evidence from research on client care that the way in which this key piece of information is being provided to consumers through the client-care letter is ineffective.”

The LSCP went on: “In our view, information on first tier complaints, including an indication of when consumers may escalate to the Legal Ombudsman, should be standardised, so that all consumers across all the regulated communities receive the same information, in the same format and with the same words.”

The standardised information should be “trialled and tested”, with “expert input”, for example from behavioural scientists, obtained on what was likely to work.

The LSCP called on the Legal Services Board to explore using standardisation to address deficiencies with complaint signposting, as part of its review of first-tier complaints.

The panel considered examples of standardisation in other sectors, such as summary boxes for credit charge fees and charges, Ofgem’s tariff information label for energy companies and traffic light food labels.

“The panel is aware that standardisation is not a perfect tool. We recognise that it can sometimes have the unintended consequence of distorting complex markets or of reducing innovation.

“For example, we know that Ofgem’s tariff information label can make it difficult to compare an existing tariff with a new one if wholesale prices change. We accept that trade-offs may need to be made and a careful balance struck.”

Panel chair Sarah Chambers commented: “We have seen progress in the variety and quality of information provided by lawyers to their clients. However, we know that in some areas the information is not having the desired effect.

“For example, when things go wrong, consumers are still not engaging as they should with the complaint process because insufficient clarity or prominence has been given about how to complain, even though it is a regulatory requirement to inform consumers.”

    Readers Comments

  • Michael Robinson says:

    We are required by the SRA to provide detailed information to our clients. It is overwhelming for the client.
    What I suggest is that this group creates the information they think is necessary and provide it to “consumers”.
    Whatever is provided to clients so many of them just don’t read it and so one has to explain it to them. Yet the provision of written information is said to be so important.

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