Which? enters HSBC panel row as bank gives way over terms of undertaking

Hudson: HSBC will not change scheme voluntarily

Consumer group Which? has added its voice to critics of HSBC’s new conveyancing panel, saying it is concerned about transparency, consumer choice and competition.

The pressure on HSBC, led by the Law Society, has persuaded it to revise the controversial undertaking demanded of solicitors acting for borrowers who chose not to instruct one of its 43 panel firms.

Which? said the new arrangement meant “a customer will be financially penalised if, for example, he or she wants to use a regular family solicitor who is not on the panel.

“More generally, having just 43 companies on the panel could seriously reduce competition among conveyancers for those HSBC customers, and therefore make it more difficult for consumers to get good value for money.”

Which? analyst Serena Cowdy said that while a panel firm may be appropriate for customers, “transparency is crucial throughout the process. For example, it should be made quick and easy for a consumer to compare the quality and cost of the panel firm, compared to a consumer’s own choice.

“We’ll be raising our concerns about transparency, consumer choice and competition with HSBC.”

There has been alarm at the breadth of the undertaking non-panel solicitors are required to give, including requirements which fall outside the solicitor’s responsibilities and personal liability.

Following a meeting with the Law Society last week, HSBC has revised the

undertakings (click here for a copy) and issued it to solicitors in all ‘live’ cases. The society said that “from our initial assessment, it appears that the revised version addresses the issues that were causing the most concern”.

HSBC has also agreed to allow firms excluded or rejected from panel membership to appeal the decision.

However, Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said that following the meeting, “I do not anticipate any voluntary change of approach from HSBC, which means that all affected firms and local law societies will need to redouble their efforts to bring pressure to bear on the bank”.

He continued: “The Law Society has made clear to MPs, government ministers and others, the impact of HSBC’s policy, and in light of the disappointing outcomes from the HSBC meeting we, in partnership with the profession, need to continue along these lines.”

The society has put together a campaign toolkit to help solicitors lobby their MP and help clients express their unhappiness too, and suggested solicitors become shareholders of HSBC as a way to put further pressure on the bank.

He added: “For our part, we have already ensured that no Law Society funds are placed with HSBC or any member of the HSBC group.” However, he said he was “unpersuaded that legal proceedings are the appropriate step at present”.

Last week the Council for Licensed Conveyancers also weighed into the row to outline its concerns over HSBC’s move, while the Law Society of Scotland has said it is causing “chaos”north of the border.



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