CMA investigation into unregulated legal services

The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) have launched a new investigation into the UK’s unregulated legal services market. It is estimated that unregulated providers hold 6-8% of the legal services market and are often chosen by consumers over conventional law firms for reasons of convenience and affordability.

The investigation

The investigation focuses on three main areas: will-writing, pre-paid probate services and ‘quickie’ online divorce services. The initial research has identified potential risks to customers and breaches of consumer protection law. In particular, the concerns include:

  • Lack of transparency around costs, including misleading advertising that quotes an initial low fee but fails to indicate that the final cost could be much greater
  • Unfair contract terms (eg no cancellation rights or mandatory terms which appoint the company as executor (often for an additional fee))
  • Inadequate quality of services, including following incorrect legal processes, incorrect legal documents and a lack of communication with consumers
  • Coercing or pressurising vulnerable customers into signing up for services

There is also a risk that, should companies cease to operate, important documents (such as original wills or divorce orders) may be lost.

The risks of using unregulated providers

In the UK, will-writing is an unregulated service meaning that anyone can draft a legally binding will, who will not necessarily have the same knowledge or experience as a solicitor. While at first it may appear more beneficial to consumers to have the choice, it may prove to be more costly down the line when things go wrong.

Unlike solicitors, an unregulated will-drafter is not required to act in the consumer’s best interests which can lead to upselling to consumers where there is little justification for it. In addition, solicitors will have professional indemnity insurance to protect clients if mistakes happen but often unregulated will-drafters do not, which leaves little options for recourse for consumers or their family.

It's therefore important that these legal services are investigated so that consumers can make an informed decision about whether a particular service is right for them.

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