Exclusive: Legal Ombudsman bids to handle complaints about will-writers

France: not prejudging whether will-writers should be regulated

The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is to float the idea of extending its jurisdiction so as to handle complaints against will-writers, in a bid to ease the problems faced by consumers who think they are regulated, Legal Futures can report.

LeO – which marked its first birthday yesterday – is also likely to push ahead with some naming of law firms against which complaints have been upheld.

We understand LeO is in talks with the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, Institute of Professional Will-writers and Society of Will Writers over submitting their members to LeO’s voluntary jurisdiction. It will not offer the service to will-writers who are not members of these bodies.

The power to take voluntary jurisdiction, in addition to its statutory jurisdiction over the regulation professions, is contained in the Legal Services Act 2007 and a consultation on LeO’s 2012-15 strategy, due to be published later this month, will suggest activating it in relation, initially, to will-writing and estate administration. It will require the approval of the Legal Services Board and the Ministry of Justice.

Chief Legal Ombudsman Adam Sampson said: “We have discussed the idea in general terms with many of the key stakeholders. We wouldn’t be taking this step unless we were confident that it was a tenable one.”

Though in its annual report in July LeO said that confusion over unregulated providers was leaving consumers unprotected, both Mr Sampson and Elizabeth France, who chairs LeO’s board, emphasised that the move was not meant to influence the Legal Services Board’s current investigation into whether will-writing, probate and estate administration should become reserved legal activities.

Ms France said: “There could be good grounds for offering redress where a legal service is provided by someone who is not a legal body, whilst not prejudging whether those people should be regulated.” She added that the regulated community would not bear the cost of extending LeO’s jurisdiction.

Offering redress does not have to mean regulation. Estate agents are required to give consumers access to a dispute resolution scheme but are otherwise not regulated.

If agreed, LeO could start exercising its voluntary jurisdiction towards the end of 2012 and it would then look at other areas where there is consumer confusion over regulation.

In all, LeO received over 75,000 contacts in its first year – lower than expected – and opened 7,000 investigations. A fifth related to costs in one way or another. Family law was the most complained about area, overtaking conveyancing, which has long been top of the list. This is most likely due to the state of the housing market.

Meanwhile, Ms France revealed that LeO will soon announce what it is to do about publishing complaints, confirming that its policy will “involve some naming”. However, she said she was still nervous about whether data can be published in a way that would not be misinterpreted.

It has also been announced that Ms France has been reappointed until 31 March 2014. Justice minister Jonathan Djangoly said: “Liz France has been a real driving force behind making the Legal Ombudsman a great success. I am delighted she has accepted to serve a further period of office.”


    Readers Comments

  • Voluntary jurisdiction? Does that mean compliance with any sanctions would also be voluntary? This does sound rather inadequate as it would give the consumer the impression of rigorous regulation without that regulation having teeth. The only answer here is to make will writing a fully regulated activity.

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