Providing immigration advice and services may need to become a reserved legal activity, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has suggested.
A discussion paper issued last week found that there is likely to be “significant consumer detriment” in the way this work is being regulated at the moment, and an overall lack of data and information about the market that is hampering effective regulation.
If it cannot be remedied, the LSB may begin a statutory investigation into making the work reserved.
The LSB found that the system of regulation for immigration advice and services complex. The work is unique in its status as a legal activity that can only be provided by regulated individuals but is not reserved.
Those who provide advice but are not a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive have to be regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC). This “complex regulatory architectu
re” presents the risk of gaps and overlaps in regulation, and differences in approach “that are not justified by evidence” – for example, OISC does not have the range of powers of the Legal Ombudsman when dealing with complaints.
Over 3,000 solicitors and around 600 barristers say they practise in immigration advice and services, as do a small number of chartered legal executives, who need specific authorisation to do so.
The LSB said it expected the qualifying regulators, by the end of 2012, “to implement coherent, evidence-based approaches to manage risks to consumers and the public interest in the provision of immigration advice and services”.
Further, subject to responses to the discussion paper and the forthcoming conclusions from the LSB’s paper Enhancing consumer protection, reducing regulatory restrictions, “we may consider whether to conduct a statutory investigation under the 2007 Act into whether immigration advice and services should become a reserved legal activity”.
The LSB is also looking at “the policy desirability and practical options” to extend the remit of the Legal Ombudsman to cover OISC, or to seek greater powers for OISC when dealing with complaints.
The LSB said it will publish its conclusions on the way forward “in early summer 2012”.