Companies offering ‘quickie’ divorces and Will writing are to be investigated by The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) , the UK’s competition watchdog.
Although these services have become more popular since lockdown, the CMA are concerned quickie divorces and unregulated Will writers are not all compliant with consumer protection law. They have also seen a rising number of cases in which vulnerable clients have claimed they had been pressured into having Wills written by certain Will writing services.
Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, explained the reasons her organisation has taken on the task of taking a closer look at quickie divorce and unregulated Will writing:
“The CMA is aware that rising living costs mean people are watching their spending, so shopping around for a more affordable option is attractive and sometimes a necessity. These may not be frequent purchases, but they are life changing. That’s why it’s so important that we investigate so that people can select the right legal service for them. It’s essential that firms get the basics right, including complying with general consumer law which applies to all traders. Customers must get a fair deal.”
In order to find out more, the CMA is encouraging people to come forward to share their experiences, particularly if they have bought these services from unregulated providers. Any consumer or professional with experience of using someone other than a lawyer for a Will, an online divorce or a pre-paid probate plan have been asked to email the CMA by the 4th September 2023.
Since the Legal Services Act came into being in 2007 alternatives to law firms have sprung up across the UK. These providers can offer their services for a lower cost and were also quick to offer new delivery options that meant clients no longer needed to go into their lawyer’s offices.
However, cost and ease of use are scant reward if the advice received is not up to standard and delivered without the assurance of consumer protection.
The CMA has identified three main areas of concern, Will writing, online divorce and pre-paid probate plans.
The main concern about Will writing is advertisements may promise low fees for initial advice but do not explain the final cost could be much higher depending on the work involved. There are also concerns over sales techniques. There have been accusations of “pressure-selling” which cannot be tolerated given the majority of those being targeted are elderly and/or vulnerable.
With regards to online divorce, there are an increasing number of cases reporting misleading claims about both the final cost and the transparency of the process and pricing. This is confusing for clients and they are reportedly often left unsure of exactly what they are paying for.
Pre-paid probate plans are relatively new. Clients are urged to pay a set upfront fee for their probate (the legal process of managing their estate when they die) so their family has no additional fees to pay when their Estate is dealt with. The fear is many of these companies may no longer be in business when the time comes for the family to action their services.
This could lead to families losing substantial amount of money not to mention incurring a huge amount of stress at what will already be a very distressing time.
There are three key reasons why you should always use a qualified and regulated lawyer for any legal work:
1. Proven expertise
Regulated lawyers have all the necessary legal knowledge, qualifications and clients experience needed to deliver the highest quality legal advice in an area in which they specialise. This ensures that their advice not only complies with the latest legislation in their area, but also that they can tailor their advice directly to your situation, your circumstances and your aims and objectives.
2. Regulatory responsibility
Every lawyer practising in a regulated firm is subject to the regulations and professional standards set by the UK’s legal governing bodies. This means they have a responsibility to meet these bodies’ strict regulatory obligations. If they don’t meet these responsibilities, they face the very real threat of being struck off and, as a result, no longer able to practice law.
These responsibilities also include the need to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This is basically ongoing training on the latest legislative and regulatory changes and current best practice in their area so the advice you receive is always up to the minute.
3. Protection and peace of mind
Regulated law firms must have professional indemnity insurance. This offers you a vital additional layer of protection. It means that in the very rare event a mistake is made, you have a set route with which to seek recourse and financial damages.
From a more practical point of view, the combination of all three factors will save you from having to spend a significant amount of additional fees to put right the mistakes an unregulated adviser may have made. While the online option may have looked cheaper at first sight, one only needs to perform an initial Google search to see just how expensive these ‘bargains’ so often turn out to be.
If you would like to discuss your Will or a relationship issue, our regulated, qualified and experienced Family Law and Private Client teams are on hand. Please contact us today and we will be happy to help.