ICAEW takes voluntary approach to firms publishing prices

ICAEW: Voluntary approach to be kept under review

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has decided, not to force its firms providing probate services to publish their fees – unlike the other legal regulators.

The ICAEW, which regulates 280 probate practices, said the voluntary approach to improving price transparency was “proportionate to the size and composition” of the firms involved.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority announced last month that law firms will have to publish prices on their websites for a range of consumer and business services, such as conveyancing and probate, from as early as December this year.

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers too will require all firms to make cost information readily accessible.

The ICAEW said in its action plan that it was carrying out research on how firms published their prices, both for reserved and non-reserved legal services such as will writing and powers of attorney.

Firms would receive a guide on best practice in pricing their services, based partly on Legal Services Consumer Panel principles, together with a warning letter making it clear that “doing nothing to comply with the guidance is not an option”.

The regulator said: “ICAEW shares the belief of the [Competition and Markets Authority] that there will be strong incentives for its accredited firms to voluntarily comply with the arrangements in this guide.”

Among the commercial advantages mentioned in the action plan were “saving firms costly time in dealing with first-tier complaints from clients about fees caused by ambiguity or lack of information on pricing and services at the outset of engagement”.

The ICAEW said transparent pricing would also benefit firms by highlighting the savings that could be achieved on legal fees by using alternative business structures as a one-stop shop.

The regulator said there were benefits for consumers too in its voluntary approach.

“Voluntary transparency requirements can be introduced more quickly than mandatory ones because there will be less consultation required as there will be no need to amend the [ICAEW’s] legal services regulations.

“Keeping regulations to a minimum helps to keep costs for the consumer low (and also complies with the red tape initiative).”

The ICAEW said it would decide early next year whether to continue with its price transparency arrangements on a voluntary basis.

If the research carried out under the action plan showed that there was “insufficient compliance” with its new guide, the ICAEW said it would give “serious consideration” to making its requirements compulsory.

The regulator said it would also “work towards” introduction of a reserved legal services logo to make ICAEW-regulated firms more easily identifiable.

A spokesman for the institute said: “We continue to work collaboratively with the other legal services regulators to develop a consistent approach to deliver the CMA’s transparency recommendations.

“Our action plan reflects and is proportionate to the size and composition of our regulated probate community and it builds on the guidance already in place under the practice assurance standards.”

There are two types of firm regulated by the ICAEW to conduct probate work: authorised firms, where all of the owners are individually authorised to do probate work; and licensed firms, better known as alternative business structures, where only some of the owners are authorised.

Around two-thirds of the ICAEW’s firms are ABSs, making it the second biggest ABS regulator after the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

In March, we revealed that the ICAEW had launched judicial review proceedings against the Ministry of Justice over the decision to deny its members the right to conduct the other reserved legal activities.

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