Monday, October 29, 2007

Legal Ombudsman attacks conveyancing complaints system as 'confusing'

Complaints from clients against solicitors who have not performed well on conveyancing services suffer from deliberately confusing procedures at the Law Society of Scotland, according to those who have suffered the embarrassing efforts of the Law Society's Client Relations team to investigate such complaints ...

The Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman seems to agree, although the following article from the Scotsman focuses more on Law Society babble, which no one really believes ...

The Scotsman reports :

À la carte menu may improve conveyancing

À la carte menu may improve conveyancing

COMPLAINTS about conveyancing are likely to "escalate" unless consumers are given clearer information about the service to expect from solicitors, according to Scotland's legal services watchdog. Jane Irvine, the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, has raised concerns with the Law Society of Scotland following complaints highlighted confusion over the conveyancing process.

Around a fifth of complaints reaching the ombudsman's office relate to residential property transactions, with issues ranging from lack of communication to misunderstandings about the checks solicitors will carry out, including those relating to liabilities for common repairs and access rights.

Irvine told The Scotsman she had become "increasingly concerned" about the lack of clarity surrounding what constituted inadequate professional service in conveyancing cases, particularly as the marketplace is set to become more competitive.

"Without it being clear what a 'basic' conveyancing standard is, complaints are likely to escalate as either solicitors fail to appreciate what service they should provide or clients and indeed other professionals, such as mortgagors and surveyors, do not understand where their duties start and those of solicitors end," she says.

In one recent case, a couple complained because they were unaware the property they were attempting to buy did not have the necessary certificates to satisfy their lender's requirements. The purchase fell through after the missives had concluded.

In another complaint, the client did not receive any explanation of title before being bound to purchase a property with a loft she could not use but could be accessed by others through her flat.

Irvine has suggested the society consider whether consumers should be offered different levels of conveyancing service, from the basic conveying of title to the higher level including advice on title, finance and wills.

Janette Wilson, the convener of the society's conveyancing committee, agreed there is a need for a wider debate about what consumers want from solicitors. But she warns producing such clearly defined levels of service may not be possible due to the complexity of some cases.

"I think Jane [Irvine] would like us to produce a definitive list of what happens in a transaction and what should be done, but you can't do that because you can start something that seems to be straightforward and it turns out to be quite complicated," she says.

"Also, houses in Scotland can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and obviously what you would do if you were buying a former croft house in the Western Isles and what you would do for a Wimpy for a large estate in Glasgow is really quite different.

"It is a complicated topic, and it is one we are not going to get easy and quick answers for, but it is something that the Law Society is keen to be looking at and working with the public, Jane and anybody else who might be interested in starting a dialogue about it.

"I would like there to be some responsible and informed debate, because it is helpful for solicitors to know what their clients really want. At the end of the day, that's really what they are trying to deliver."

Wilson adds that the committee recognises consumers may need clearer information, and the society plans to update its information leaflets for the public.

"A lot of solicitors send out quite a lot of bumf to explain the process as a matter of routine, and obviously the letter of engagement that solicitors have to send out often has quite a level of detail in there to explain to people what they can expect for their money," she says. "But I think there is always room for improvement. I don't know that a lot of solicitors send out material routinely at the outset to inform people about the house-buying process.

"There are a number of sources of material on the market that various bodies have produced including leaflets from the Law Society. What we are going to do is look at these again and try and update them."

Wilson adds it would be useful for clients to know what information they may need to give their solicitor at the outset to get the best service in return.

"For example, it is a standard part of the service to get a property enquiry certificate for the property, that covers all sorts of things such as that there are no statutory notices. It will give details about any outstanding planning matters but of course it doesn't cover all the properties round about and, because they are about £100 a go, you would not automatically get one for the house next door or the piece of land opposite.

"Clearly, if somebody is wanting to buy a house because of its wonderful view and when they view it there are folk in there digging holes, it would be useful for them to say to the solicitor, 'I would like that checked out,' and the solicitor will do it. It's trying to tease out what might be expected but what really has to be a kind of bolt-on."

Wilson adds it may be useful for the a distinction to be made between basic and higher service levels, not only to give consumers a choice, but for complaints. "One would imagine the market may change and people may want to choose the level of service that they want - whether they want the cheap and cheerful, or a more detailed level of service. At the moment, we don't differentiate, particularly when complaints are being considered, between the Mini and the Rolls Royce. I think this is something that is going to have to be explored quite widely, and with the public."

But, she adds, there are limits to how basic a conveyancing service can get, and this was underlined by the fact Tesco is relaunching its online property conveyancing service as a fully-fledged estate agency following intervention by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

"People are obviously making a very important purchase here and it isn't like a can of beans," she says.

Dianne Paterson, a partner with Russel + Aitken in Edinburgh who specialises in residential property, suggested clients could be offered a menu of services to ensure they were clear about the service to expect.

"It's important to ensure consumers are fully informed about the services on offer from a firm, and that they feel confident in whatever services they choose," she says. "In order for this to happen it should be clarified at the outset exactly what is included in any service offered, what systems are in place, and who might be doing the work.

"This could be in the form of a menu of individual conveyancing services charged out at different rates, or a fixed fee that includes whatever might arise in a standard conveyancing transaction. Whether that service is factory conveyancing or bespoke, provided the service offered is explained in detail in advance consumers should be clear as to what is on offer."

1 comment:

Westerton Fettercairn said...

I have had a terrible experience of the Scottish buying system, given an estimate for the work of £750.00, the work was poor so I requested my funds back from the client account, they were sent back less nearly £7000.00 with no warning, complaint to the SLCC still ongoing, but say it will be over a year before being investigated. Meanwhile the solicitor has my funds.