Peter James

James: “considerably ahead” of expectations

The number of accountancy firms authorised or licensed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) to provide probate services has passed 100.

Alternative business structures make up 69 of these and other firms 41 of a total of 110. Peter James, head of regulatory policy at the ICAEW, told Legal Futures he expected the total number of firms to hit 200 by the end of the year.

He said there were already enough applications in the pipeline to take the figure for ABSs to over 100.

“We are considerably ahead of where we thought we would be,” Mr James said. “We are getting around 10-15 applications a month. There tends to be an influx when accountants complete their two-day probate courses.”

Mr James said the first and still the biggest ABS was Kingston Smith, licensed by the ICAEW in October last year.

He said another ABS was Kreston Reeves, a medium-sized firm based in London and the South East with offices in Crawley, Canterbury, Chatham, Sandwich and Eastbourne.

However, most of the applications came from small accountancy firms and sole practices, particularly the non-ABS firms where all the principals are authorised to carry out probate work.

“ABSs have the capability to bring in solicitors as partners. One or two of the bigger firms are doing this, but the smaller firms are training their own people to do the work.”

Mr James said around a quarter of the ICAEW’s 10,000 member firms carried out estate administration.

“If you get involved in probate work, it can add quality and capability to your existing practice and fill in some of the gaps.

“A number of firms have said it’s not worth their while to apply and they’re happy to use solicitors because of mutual referral arrangements, although once lawyers retire these arrangements may change.”

Mr James said that most of the ABSs licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority were based on ownership and appointing non-lawyer partners, rather than supply of services.

He added that the advantages of legal professional privilege were being eroded because of the changing shape of the market. “The playing field is being altered.”

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