The chief legal ombudsman, Adam Sampson, has called on the government to extend its jursidction to unregulated will-writing and probate providers – while also highlighting continued shortcomings among regulated providers.
Following the decision last year by the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling,, Mr Sampson said other options should be considered, including provisions in the Legal Services Act that allow unregulated service providers to opt into the Legal Ombudsman’s (LeO) jurisdiction.
“Failing a move to regulate all will writers, we want the government to at least consider a voluntary ombudsman scheme into which service providers can opt themselves,” he said. “Provision already exists for the Lord Chancellor to make this happen.”
Mr Sampson’s comments came as LeO published a report this morning on complaints about wills and probate services. The report said LeO had resolved 1,013 wills and probate complaints in the financial year 2013-2014, making up 12.7% of the total.
Half of the complaints were resolved informally, with 99% relating to firms regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The report said that 18% of wills and probate complaints related to costs. The other main reasons were delays (12%), failure to follow instructions (12%) and failure to advise (12%).
“As we have seen, representative bodies are advocating the superior service standards of regulated providers over lay or unreserved providers, but clearly many of their members are not living up to the hype,” researchers said.
“The bar can be set for all providers of wills and probate services by better managing client expectations with clear costs information and realistic timeframes for completing work. In addition, all service providers should set out the limits of their roles and responsibilities at the start of a case.”
The report said that LeO believed that all consumers of will-writing and probate services should have access to redress. “This can only be achieved if regulators, representative bodies, and government work together to find a solution to the problems caused by an unregulated legal sector.”
A move to a voluntary ombudsman scheme has been supported by the Society of Will Writers. Nick Honeyman Brown, chair of the society, said: “The society’s overriding objective is for all its members to provide consumers of will writing, trust and estate administration services with the certainty of obtaining a quality product, backed by real consumer protection.
“Working together with the Legal Ombudsman we believe this objective is more likely to be achieved.”