The government has today rejected the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) recommendation that will-writing become a reserved legal activity.
There had been near-unanimous support from legal and consumer groups for the move, which would have replicated the situation in Scotland, but rumours had been circulating for some months that it was coming up against the anti-regulation agenda of the current Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling.
A decision notice issued by Mr Grayling said that while the evidence indicates there is consumer detriment in the will-writing market, and that reservation could address it, the LSB “does not adequately demonstrate that reservation is the best solution, or that alternative measures have been sufficiently exhausted in seeking to address this detriment”.
He said instead there should be “further efforts” to see if these alternative measures can be made more effective before resorting to reservation.
“For example, there could be more targeted guidance for the legal profession and strengthening of existing regulation of authorised persons in this area, combined with voluntary regulation schemes and codes of practice for non-authorised providers.
“There could also be greater efforts made to educate consumers on the different types of provider and their respective protections and options for redress, as well as greater use of existing consumer protections.”
LSB chairman David Edmonds said: “Naturally we are disappointed by the government’s decision. However, it is their decision alone to make and we will study the details and respond in due course.
“In the meantime, the LSB will work with Ministry of Justice officials, consumer groups, providers and other stakeholders to ensure that the issues are tackled and that consumers confidence in the market for will-writing services is increased.
“The onus is now on both regulated and unregulated providers of will-writing services to improve standards and thereby earn consumer and public confidence.”
Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, added: “This decision is extremely disappointing news for consumers and makes no sense given the sheer weight of evidence of consumer detriment and the wide consensus backing regulation. Anti-regulation dogma has triumphed over what is in the best interests of consumers.
“Major doubts have already been expressed about whether self-regulation will work and even the will-writing trade bodies have conceded this is unlikely to succeed. If this is the only option then we’ll do all we can to make this work for the benefit of consumers.”
Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said: “Consumers have been let down by this deeply disappointing decision. We provided plenty of evidence to the LSB, demonstrating that consumers are at real risk from certain unregulated will writers who can be incompetent, untrained and uninsured.
“Thanks to the government’s decision today, unregulated providers can carry on writing wholly unsuitable wills, leaving consumers without any recourse when things go wrong as a result.”
The Council for Licensed Conveyancers – which had thrown its hat into the ring as a potential regulator of will-writers – also expressed its disappointment. Chair Anna Bradley said: “Consumers expect very high standards of protection when it comes to will-writing services. Anyone writing a will wants the peace of mind that comes from knowing their wishes will be carried out faithfully and that requires a well written will.
“We will seek to work with will-writers to provide those standards of consumer protection through voluntary but rigorous arrangements. We believe this is in line with our responsibilities under the Legal Services Act.”