The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Office of Fair Trading (OFT) have each pledged around £30,000 to support the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) research into the will-writing market, Legal Futures can reveal.
However, the Law Society has declined to contribute, citing concerns over the impact its involvement could have on how the impartiality of the research is viewed.
The LSB asked its consumer panel to investigate the case for regulating will-writers in September (see ). Both the LSB and the panel said original consumer research was needed to build a clear picture of what is currently happening in practice. It estimated this could cost £150,000.
The LSB announced it was committing £40,000 towards it but chief executive Chris Kenny said at the time that “we need to secure further financial support from partners who share our enthusiasm to make this happen – we do not have the budget to fund the research alone”.
After approaching various potential funders, the SRA and OFT have emerged as the LSB’s partners in this exercise.
Ashley Kovas, head of strategy at the SRA, said: “We know that many in the profession are concerned that they are required to operate to much higher standards than unregulated will-writers and share the belief that unregulated will-writing poses significant risks to consumers. Understanding whether this is the case will inform the debate about where the line should be drawn between regulated and unregulated activities. Collaboration with the Office of Fair Trading enables us to share the cost of the work, reducing the cost to the profession.”
An OFT spokesman added: “The OFT is supporting this research as we believe that the debate around whether will-writing should be regulated, and indeed whether markets should be regulated more generally, should be based on evidence of the problems that exist in a market, what is causing them, how effective current consumer protection is and whether it can be improved.
“This approach is consistent with the OFT’s prioritisation principles of conducting work that can inform other sectors of the economy, for example by considering when to regulate, and our desire to get value for money for the taxpayer by working collaboratively with other agencies.”
The research project is now out for tender and so the precise cost, and therefore the exact contribution from each party, is as yet unknown.
Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said it declined to contribute directly to the funding of the research because a substantial voluntary payment “could have exposed both the LSB and the society to criticism in relation to the independence of the research, particularly if the research appears favourable to the society’s well-known position. The society did, however, confirm that it would do all it could to help the LSB identify the best possible information about the abuses and poor practices which are rife amongst unqualified will writers”.