From 6 December 2018, property lawyers will have to publish certain price, service and quality information on their websites (or in alternative formats if requested), as part of a cross-industry push to empower consumers and foster innovation and competition across the legal services market.
The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) has worked with the SRA and CILEx Regulation on the requirements, guidance, templates and timescales to ensure that there is a level playing field and so that potential clients are able to make comparisons between providers.
With less than three weeks to go, CLC has outlined some of the most common questions it is being asked about compliance with the new rules.
We don’t have a website. Do these requirements still apply to us?
Yes. If you don’t have a website, you must provide the information by ‘other reasonable means on request’ which could include email, post or leaflets available for consumers visiting your office.
Do we have to use a cost estimate generator to be compliant?
No. A cost estimate generator is one way of displaying cost information but there are other ways that may be more appropriate for your business and clients. For example, you may consider displaying examples of fixed fees by reference to specific values or a range of values for a range of properties.
If a cost generator asks for consumer email addresses / contact details before giving a cost estimate does this make it non-compliant?
Yes, if this is the only way for a consumer to obtain a cost estimate. The cost generator must be capable of producing a quote without the need for the consumer to provide any contact details (eg. telephone number or email address).
You may consider providing costs in two stages. For example, you could provide examples of fixed fees based on specific values on your website and for those consumers that would then like a quote more tailored to their circumstances, you could also provide a cost generator. In this example requiring contact details for the consumer to provide a more detailed estimate via telephone or email would be acceptable, provided there is some other indication of how much your costs are likely to be on your website.
Do we have to list our entire fee structure?
No, but you should provide enough examples of your fees to cover a range of services and transaction types.
Can we publish a range of fees rather than an average fee?
Yes. Consumers should be provided with enough cost information to make an informed decision.
How do we display our costs when we charge different rates at different branches or based on property postcode?
This will depend on how you decide to publish your fees. For example, if using a cost generator, it is possible to require the property postcode in order to allocate legal fees accordingly.
If you display examples of fixed fees based on specific values or a range of values of properties, you could give an example such as: “For the sale of a freehold house in Lincoln/with a postcode of LN1 for £200,000, we will charge £x plus VAT (+ list of disbursements etc)…please call us to receive a more specific quote for the property you are selling, taking account of your financial circumstances”
How do we provide an estimate for complex transactions?
We acknowledge that from time to time you may need to amend your fees when a transaction throws up unexpected issues. As is currently required, we expect you to tell the client about changes to costs you will charge as soon as possible and explain the reasons for those charges.
When providing Cost Information on your website, you may consider giving examples of some of the circumstances that may change the cost, for example if the property is leasehold and not freehold as the client initially informed you, or if a lease extension is required.
Stephen Ward, CLC Director of Strategy and External Relations said “All CLC Practices are different and we have given them the flexibility to comply with these new rules in the way that best suits their business and their clients. We want to remind practices that we are here to support them so they are ready to comply from 6 December and that if they have any questions they should contact their Regulatory Supervision Manager.”
Full guidance and templates can be found here: https://www.clc-uk.org/lawyers/informed-choice/