The frontline regulators are making “very good progress” in improving price transparency, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has said.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) was far less impressed, however, pointing to a “distinct lack of progress” on information about quality and saying it was concerned about those regulators adopting a voluntary approach to publishing prices.
The LSB yesterday publishing a progress report on implementation of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) recommendations for greater transparency.
Chief executive Neil Buckley said: “I am pleased to report that there has been very good progress made by the legal service regulators. The larger regulators are on track to introduce new transparency requirements for providers in the next few months.
“There have been positive developments on all the issues that we asked the regulators to address a year ago.”
Mr Buckley said mandatory price transparency requirements were the LSB’s preferred option and those regulators taking a voluntary approach would have to review the effectiveness of their guidance and if necessary consider compulsory rules.
He added that comparing the quality of providers and the feasibility of a joint register for lawyers “will need to be addressed over the next year”.
However, the LSCP called on the LSB and the regulators to do more to ensure that the CMA’s recommendations were implemented in full.
Despite “advancement towards price transparency”, the LSCP said there was “a distinct lack of progress and focus” on ensuring that consumers had information on quality.
“The panel has consistently said that price transparency without information on quality could mislead consumers to think that higher-priced services mean better quality”.
The LSCP said it was also concerned that some regulators – highlighting the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) – had opted to introduce price transparency via voluntary guidance.
“This goes against the letter and spirit of the CMA requirements. The panel cannot therefore support the LSB’s endorsement of the ICAEW’s approach.”
In separate updates published by the LSB on each regulator’s progress on price transparency, it emerged that the Bar Standards Board (BSB) will not be introducing its new rules on price transparency before May 2019 – six months after its target date of December 2018 and the time when the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) will introduce their rules.
The LSB said the BSB “explained that the delay was to allow longer time to engage with specialist bar associations when drafting the rules”.
The ICAEW said it was issuing guidance on price transparency this autumn, “with a view” to formal adoption in January 2019.
The LSB said the SRA, CLC and CILEx Regulation had planned to develop a “quote generator for conveyancing”.
“After discussions the decision was made not to develop such a tool. However, the regulators’ respective rules aim to ensure consistency on the elements that make up the price quoted to consumers, e.g. treatment of disbursements.
“Also, the three regulators have developed price estimate templates which can form the basis of a quote generator.”
CILEx Regulation submitted its application for rule changes earlier this month. If approved by the LSB, they will come into force in January 2019.
The three smallest regulators – the Costs Lawyer Standards Board, the Intellectual Property Regulation Board and the Faculty Office – are all taking a voluntary approach to price transparency and publishing guidance.
The LSB said all the regulators had “taken some steps to assess the feasibility of a joint register” for lawyers, and in the meantime would work to provide a better access point to their register through the Legal Choices website.
The oversight regulator said a redesign and relaunch of Legal Choices was being discussed this autumn.