Criticism of the government’s continued yesterday – although the two bodies representing the will-writing community appeared at odd over the prospects of self-regulation succeeding.
The Institute of Professional Willwriters said it was “extremely disappointed by this outcome given the investigative work that has been undertaken over the last three years by both the Legal Services Board and the Legal Services Consumer Panel. Also most practitioners in the sector supported the proposals, as did most professional bodies and stakeholders.
Chairman Paul Sharpe said: “While the outcome is not entirely unexpected, given the government policy to reduce costs irrespective of the outcome, some of the reasons given as rather perplexing.
“For instance, voluntary codes of practice are suggested in the unregulated sector. The IPW has had a voluntary code, now recognised by the Trading Standards Institute, for four years, yet only 20% of the unregulated will-writing sector are IPW members and therefore comply voluntarily with the code. I can’t see this proposal making any impact in the market.”
The Society of Will Writers (SWW) said it too was disappointed but not surprised. But it described the decision as “a unique opportunity for the will-writing profession to come together and show its critics how self-regulation can work, ensuring that consumers’ interests are maintained.
“Over the next few days and weeks the SWW… will seek to work with other interested parties, both government and private, to provide better safeguards for the consumer in the light of this decision.”
The SWW pointed out that the mystery shopping survey carried out in 2009 by the Legal Services Consumer Panel showed that “will-writers were equally as good as solicitors when it came to producing wills”.
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) and its regulatory body ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) said the decision failed to recognise both the evidence provided by the Legal Services Board in support of its recommendation, and the attempts over the last decade to regulate will-writers voluntarily and educate the public.
CILEx president Nick Hanning said: “The government’s suggestion of a voluntary code will not guarantee the protection consumers would get compared to making will-writing a reserved activity. The result of this decision will be an uneven playing field between unregulated companies and regulated professionals, such as CILEx members; and such a situation can only be contrary to the interests of the public.”
IPS chairman Alan Kershaw agreed: “Voluntary regulation has been attempted before and has not succeeded. It creates confusion by presenting the public with a plethora of varying standards, and offers no redress to consumers who are let down by a person who has opted not to subscribe to published standards of conduct and practice.”
Christina Blacklaws, director of policy at The Co-operative Legal Services, said: “Regulation would provide greater peace of mind to those consumers who are taking a very important step in safeguarding their assets for the future but, despite all the efforts from ourselves and others in the legal services market in making the Government aware of fraud and unethical sales practices, sadly these recommendations have fallen on deaf ears.
“This decision will also impact on our call for the government to introduce a regulatory framework for probate and estate administration providers. Full regulation for these providers of legal services is the only way we can fully protect the interests of consumers.”
Adam Draper, a partner specialising in will disputes at national firm Irwin Mitchell, said the announcement was a missed opportunity.
“We have long-held concerns that the current level of self-regulation has not worked and consumers are in any event unaware of the lack of regulation,” he said. “Research has shown that many consumers think that all will writers are solicitors and it is unclear, therefore, whether the consumer is aware that non-regulated will-writers are not solicitors and do not have the same level of regulation or consumer protection.”