The Competition and Markets Authority launches probe into unregulated online legal services

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a new investigation into unregulated will-writing, online divorce, and pre-paid probate services.

The CMA's investigation is welcomed by professional bodies such as the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP). STEP has been concerned for some time about unqualified or incompetent advisors in the field of estates and trusts. A recent survey by STEP of their members found that 79% had come across cases of wills with errors. A further 54% highlighted their concerns about rogue firms making false claims about wills leading to increased tax bills.

The CMA investigation has been prompted by various consumer complaints with areas of concern including:

  • Misleading advertising e.g. about the simplicity of the service
  • Inadequate quality e.g. firms using the wrong forms or sending papers to the court late
  • Unfair contract terms
  • Pressure selling
  • Lack of transparency on costs e.g. what third party costs might be involved or what costs do or don't cover
  • The suitability of products being sold

Unlike solicitors or legal professionals, these services are not bound by the same professional standards and regulations, potentially leaving clients vulnerable to negligence or misconduct. These services plug a useful gap in the market ensuring access to these services for all and it is important that any proposed changes do not make these services unfeasible. Maintaining quality and having an avenue to resolve any issues that may arise are key concerns.

If issues arise with these services, consumers may be left not knowing what to do. The current recourse for consumers is limited to pursuing a professional negligence claim, utilising consumer protection laws, engaging with Trading Standards or Ombudsman schemes and reporting misconduct to regulatory bodies associated with those areas of work. However often these avenues, don't put right any issues that may have arisen.

The Institute of Legacy Management is currently considering their response given the interest of this news to its members.

If you have any questions in relation to this article, please contact Elizabeth Ware or Chloe Phare.