Five legal price comparison websites have signed up to good practice standards issued by two regulators and the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) – although they are to remain voluntary, with no external validation.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) joined with the panel to promote the final version of the standards yesterday after completing discussions with comparison site providers.
It represents the latest step in a long-running campaign by the LSCP, backed by the Legal Services Board (LSB), to open up the legal market to price comparison sites.
In January the panel complained  about the failure of regulators to give comparison sites access to professional registers containing disciplinary information. Last November the Office of Fair Trading  urged legal comparison sites – among others – to boost public trust by providing better information to consumers, for instance on privacy policies.
The 20 good practice standards cover such issues as accessibility, independence from legal service providers, offering meaningful choices, accuracy, transparency about how personal information is used, and complaints procedures. It follows a mystery shopping exercise  carried out by the LSCP using these standards.
Rosie Rogers, director of reallymoving, said the website had already “broadened out” its comparison tools for consumers in order to align itself with the standards. She added: “We want people using our online services to have the best possible experience and to get the right legal support for all of their conveyancing requirements. The standards will help to keep us on the right track in doing this.”
But the standards are voluntary, self-certified by the websites, and are policed only by consumers who complain that a subscriber has not upheld them. In June 2012, the LSB chairman David Edmonds made it clear that if a voluntary quality scheme failed, the board would consider accreditation of comparison sites .
Sheila Kumar, the CLC’s chief executive, said: “The CLC and the other legal regulators keep watch over lawyers but we don’t regulate comparison websites, so the introduction of the… standards should be a useful step forward to help consumers get a good experience right from the start of their legal services journey.”
Mehrunnisa Lalani, the SRA’s director of inclusion, said: “The standards should help websites to provide a good-quality consumer experience while continuing to improve their offerings and online facilities, and we encourage comparison website providers to consider signing up them.”
LSCP chair Elisabeth Davies added: “Comparison websites are well established across many sectors and we expect legal services to catch-up soon. Problems with these websites in other markets have dented public trust and it’s important to prevent these mistakes happening in legal services.
“The standards are designed to guide websites down the right path and enable them to demonstrate they are committed to treating their customers fairly.”