The Legal Services Board announced in April that Probate and Will-Writing should become “reserved activities” in order to offer consumers greater protection.
Recent media coverage including the Guardian article “The £600m RIP-off” has evidenced that consumers are experiencing poor service and snowballing costs. The article described the £600m of the £1.25bn spent per year in the probate market.
The principal concerns of the Legal Services Board are unclear pricing, excessive costs and over-pricing.
They concluded that “Action is needed to protect consumers of will-writing, probate activities and estate administration services and to promote their interests.”
High street banks were also of concern to the Office of Fair Trading, where in a 2010 report four leading banks were found to be charging between £3,000 and £9,000 for essentially the same probate service.
Instances of “baiting”, where the company providing the services writes themselves into the “loss leading” will in order to cash in later with outrageous probate fees is rife in this unregulated environment.
The proposals will ensure that these services are regulated and authorised, in recommending that the entire probate service becomes a reserved activity. In theory this would then mean a criminal charge for any company offering unauthorised and charged probate services.
Tom Street, of Tom Street and Co, comments: “At this stage these are just proposals, and the Lord Chancellor will decide whether or not to accept the recommendations later this year. However, we welcome these proposals as anything which offers greater protection to consumers in an increasingly murky industry has to be a shrewd move.”