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Unregulated Will Writers and Others

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The first report of the Legal Ombudsman is published today. An important issue that is highlighted is that the Legal Ombudsman service can deal only with complaints against qualified lawyers. The great majority of legal services can be provided by unqualified and unregulated individuals and organisation. Very few legal services are ‘reserved’ to qualified lawyers. Will writing is identified as one of the legal services giving rise to high numbers of complaints but where, in the case of unqualified and unregulated “will writers”, the Legal Ombudsman has no powers. This is one of the examples cited in the report …

“Mr and Mrs G had a home visit from a will writing company following an initial telephone enquiry. They agreed to pay the company to prepare a lasting power of attorney and some protective property trusts for them.
“A number of months passed and the couple had not received anything from the firm. Mr G rang and was told that more information was needed, but that work was nevertheless being carried out. Another month went by. Mr and Mrs G still hadn’t heard anything, so they decided to write a letter of complaint to the firm. They heard nothing back, but a month later some documentation did arrive.
“Mr and Mrs G thought the quality of the work was very poor. All they received was a standard document with a few personal details inserted. Mr and Mrs G felt that this was something they could have done themselves, using a pack from a stationer. In their view, it was certainly not worth the £1,500 they had paid the company.
“Mr and Mrs G sent another formal letter of complaint to the firm – again with no response. When they complained to us, we reviewed the status of the company to see whether it fell within our jurisdiction. However, it quickly became apparent that the company was not regulated and that there were no regulated individuals sufficiently closely connected with the service provided that we could accept for the complaint to be investigated. There appears to be little prospect of Mr and Mrs G getting access to effective redress for the loss they consider they have suffered.”

Similar issues arise in relation to the services of ‘Claims management companies’. Another example cited in the report …

Mr H hired a claims management company to represent him in an unfair dismissal claim. Mr H told us that, after preparing paperwork, they failed to appear at the employment tribunal on three separate occasions.

Mr H complained to the company and received a response to the effect that, as some work had been done preparing the case, he would not be refunded any fees. Mr H took his complaint to the Ministry of Justice, who regulate both the claims management company and their parent company.

The Ministry referred him to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, who in turn referred him on to the Legal Ombudsman. But when we looked into it, the company’s advisers where not qualified lawyers and not regulated by one of the legal Approved Regulators. We contacted the Ministry who then agreed to take on Mr H’s complaint because of the number of complaints they had already received about the parent company.

The opening up of legal services to wider competition, and the entry of new organisations into the market, is likely to lead to greater confusion and to consumers being left, in some instances, without redress. The message is perhaps to ensure that you are dealing with qualified lawyers who are providing properly regulated legal services. But, yes, we would say that wouldn’t we?