Licensed conveyancers to face price and service transparency rules

Paraskeva: We do not want to be overly prescriptive

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) has become the first regulator to announce what service standards and prices it will mandate the firms it regulates to publish online.

It is also encouraging CLC-regulated firms to go beyond the minimum regulatory requirements and use the transparency drive to differentiate themselves better and attract clients – such as opening up to feedback platforms and price comparison websites.

All of the legal regulators are devising similar plans to in the wake of the Competition and Markets Authority’s 2016 report that found a lack of transparency was hindering competition in the legal market.

Following a consultation last autumn, the CLC has today published a second consultation on the precise regulatory changes required to effect some of its reforms. Subject to approval by the Legal Services Board, the new rules should be in place by the end of 2018.

CLC practices are currently required to provide cost, service and regulatory information at the point they are instructed; the regulator said these changes would “aid consumers” by providing that at an earlier stage to help them make their choice of lawyer.

CLC practices will be required to make cost information, including whether they have referral arrangements, readily accessible on their website and in alternative formats on request.

How this is presented will not be prescribed, but the CLC said it would publish best practice guidance along with cost estimate templates “to ensure quotes are comprehensive and comparable”.

The consultation paper also suggests that CLC firms consider providing an instant online quote generator on its website or on a third-party website. Recent CLC-sponsored research found that online quote generators can help secure more clients.

However, the CLC said it was urging firms to focus on promoting the features and quality of their services rather than simply price as this “will increase the opportunity for CLC practices to differentiate themselves from competitors and appeal to clients on grounds other than just price”.

CLC-regulated firms will need to tell consumers online about the services they provide, the key stages in the delivery of those services, and indicative timescales.

Other information could include staff details, the practice’s typical client profile and feedback from clients on third-party platforms like Trustpilot and Feefo – but this will not be compulsory.

The CLC said that, once the changes were in place, it would monitor compliance and assess whether the new approaches are delivering the benefits sought by the CMA.

CLC chair Dame Janet Paraskeva said: “The firms we regulate will be facing new requirements and we expect them to be open and transparent.

“But we do not want to be overly prescriptive in how they can take advantage of this new era of transparency – we are looking to firms to find their own approaches which fit best with their business models and styles of service.

“We believe there is a real opportunity for those that focus on service quality – research repeatedly shows that home movers do not simply choose a conveyancer on price, but they need to know, and quickly, why they should go with a particular firm. Some CLC regulated firms are already finding new and better ways to do this.

“Firms will need to give a lot of thought to how to present this information and turn these challenges into the opportunity we know they are.”

The consultation closes on 29 June. It can be found here.

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