Quarter of conveyancers “not transparent” on fees

Bath: Most popular time for people to search for quotes was 8-10pm

A quarter of consumers believe their conveyancer was “not transparent” on fees, new research has shown on the day new price and service transparency rules are introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

The survey of 2,000 consumers commissioned by property platform When You Move also found that 13% felt “trapped” by their solicitor with “unexpected fees”.

Simon Bath, chief executive of When You Move and Watford-based licensed conveyancers WYM Legal, predicted that the new rules on price transparency were unlikely to be a “silver bullet” for the problem.

“The legal industry has taken its time to catch up with others. I don’t think price is ever the only factor for consumers, but it is an absolutely defining factor.”

Mr Bath said consumers might find a conveyancing quote on Google of £299 plus VAT, but end up paying £1,000.

“It’s not a matter of intending to hide costs, but it’s a result of conveyancing firms not having the machinery to provide accurate fixed-fee quotes at the beginning of the transaction.”

The survey found that 25% of consumers agreed that their solicitor “was not transparent with the fees for the services they provided in relation to buying my home, before I engaged a solicitor”.

When You Move launched QuickQuote this summer, one of a number of tools on the market now to help firms give consumers online access to fixed-fee quotes and comply with the new rules.

He said the most popular time for people to search for conveyancing quotes was between 8pm and 10pm, but the majority of law firms did not have “online quote widgets”, so all they could do was ask consumers to email them and reply by email or spreadsheet the following day.

The survey also found that just under a third (32%) of consumers chose their conveyancing firm following a recommendation from estate agents, while just over a third (35%) chose it because it was geographically the most convenient for them.

A significant minority of consumers (19%) chose their conveyancers because they were “the easiest to find online”.

Mr Bath said consumers were becoming “more empowered” to do their own online research, and service ratings were just as important as price.

The new transparency rules require firms to publish price and service information on their websites, or provide it to prospective clients on request if they do not have a website, for a range of common services.

As well as conveyancing, they cover probate, immigration applications and appeals (excluding asylum), advice and representation at magistrates’ courts in relation to summary-only road traffic offences and employment tribunal claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal (whether representing employer or employee).

They also apply to debt recovery up to a value of £100,000, and advice and representation in licensing applications.

The Law Society opposed introduction of the price transparency rules, approved by the Legal Services Board this summer, on the grounds that they would encourage consumers to make decisions on price alone and encourage a race to the bottom.

Christina Blacklaws, president of the society, said today: “Law Society research shows people’s priorities and decisions change as a legal situation escalates – the experience of their solicitor, and regulatory protections, were valued over cost the more difficult or complex an issue became.

“And the complexity of a case is not always apparent at the outset so it’s not possible to foresee every contingency on day one.

“Our advice to consumers is to make decisions about the legal services you use based on a balance of considerations. Price is of course important, but so also are the range and quality of services you get for your money, and the client protections offered by the provider.”

James Frost, an associate in the professional indemnity team at broker JLT Specialty, said: “Whilst firms will need to comply with the transparency rules if they are to avoid the risk of regulatory action by the SRA, they will also need to carefully consider the potential loss of business that may arise from linking their pricing structure to the quality of the service provided.

“There is a real risk here that potential clients will simply use the published information of several firms to choose the cheapest option, without giving a firm the chance to explain what sets them apart from their competition.”

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