A volume conveyancing firm has apologised after sending out letters to clients asking for an additional £200 fee to “prioritise” their files in the run-up to Christmas.
Advantage Property Lawyers, an alternative business structure regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC), said the “optional service” was designed to avoid disappointment for clients hoping to complete transactions before Christmas.
In the letter, Leeds-based Advantage said it was writing “as a formality” to clients “who may anticipate completing before the Christmas period/end of December”.
The letter continued: “We kindly wish to inform that as you may appreciate we have a high volume of files that to complete before this time. Although we endeavour to respond to any correspondence including post, emails and calls within our standard turnaround time, this may not be possible on occasions due to this increase.
“To manage expectations and so not to disappoint where this is not possible, we write to advise of an optional service in order to prioritise our caseload.
“For transactions that wish to take advantage of the service, we shall deal with all correspondence the same day it is received, and prioritise the files above the ones that do not wish to take this service who will in turn, receive turnaround times in accordance with our earliest opportunity.
“The fee, which is an additional £200, will not be expected upfront and will be added to the final bill when issuing the completion statement with final contract documents to sign in readiness to exchange and complete.
“We hope you can appreciate the reasoning behind this due to the time of year to try to provide fairness relating to the transactions wanting to complete in December.”
Rob Lewis, head of legal practice and operations director at Advantage, told Legal Futures that the letter had been sent out “by mistake” by a junior member of staff to 14 of the firm’s clients.
Mr Lewis said: “No money has been billed or will be billed. We do not claim any sort of expedited fees relating to Christmas”.
The conveyancer said he had spoken to each of the clients “personally on the phone”. He said that only a “very small percentage” of the firm’s 3,000 active conveyancing files were involved.
Mr Lewis described the issue as “done and dusted” and said lots of large organisations sent out letters by mistake.
He added that Advantage knew the identity of the member of staff who sent out the letters, but wanted to keep the matter “internal”.
A spokesman for the CLC said: ‘We have investigated this matter with the practice. We are pleased that they have withdrawn the letter and apologised to the small number of clients who received it.
“The practice has undertaken that similar approaches to seek unjustified additional payments from clients will not be made in future.”
Meanwhile, the CLC is set to launch a scheme aimed at “significantly” reducing the risk of member firms being impersonated online through cloned or copied websites, and stopping fraudsters setting up fake firms that claim to be regulated by the CLC.
The CLC will provide each firm with a unique piece of code that will provide a CLC ‘secure badge’ for the firm to display online. Fraudsters will not be able to ‘scrape’ the badge from a firm’s website when producing a fake version of it.
While they could simply copy the look of the badge, the CLC service will also search the Internet for images that look like the badge, allowing the CLC to highlight to the firms, internet service provider and others that a fake website is in operation.
Consumers will also be able to click on the badge to see information about the regulated firm on the CLC’s website. The regulator will promote the secure badge to consumers and encourages firms to do the same.
The scheme is administered by Yoshki, which provides digital smart badges for a series of bodies, such as VisitEngland and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.