The advertising regulator’s investigation questioned how rigorous the accreditation process was for the CQS as part of a complaint about an advert promoting the scheme.
Any changes to the CQS could prove particularly important for lenders who have decided conveyancers must be accredited to be part of their panels.
Mortgage Solutions understands that Santander is one such lender. It said: “Santander works with an excellent panel of solicitors and if a customer wants to use their own solicitor, we also fully support this. As a responsible lender, we welcome any work that ensures customers get the best service at all times.”
Aldermore also uses CQS as part of the qualification criteria for its residential conveyancing panel.
Commercial director Charles McDowell acknowledged the relevance and robustness of CQS had been questioned, “with the implication being that it adds little value”.
“This is not a new critique, so in that sense the ASA’s ruling is not a surprise,” he said.
“At the end of the day lenders have to set panel qualification criteria and given a choice between two firms, one with CQS and one without with all other things being equal, it’s pretty obvious which one most lenders will choose. It’s plainly not a guarantee of quality, although the same critique could be levelled at any other accreditation – for example the hotel sector.
“But I don’t think it can be argued that CQS has not helped raise standards across the conveyancing industry, for example with requirements for mandatory training, so the real debate appears to be in relation to the effectiveness of the accreditation and re-accreditation checks,” he added.
Not dead in the water
The move is likely to be welcomed by the industry as Mortgage Solutions has heard from several members in the conveyancing sector who suggested the trade body should use the opportunity to consider how the scheme could be improved.
Bold Legal Group (BLG) has more than 650 member conveyancing firms. Its CEO Rob Hailstone said the responses from members to a survey about the CQS following the ASA ruling had been emphatic.
“Most of the responses came back as negative, which implied the CQS was a little bit lacklustre,” he said.
“There is a glimmer of hope however, as many BLG members suggested CQS could, with some changes, help improve the homebuying process. For example, if it was policed and enforced more. If further changes were made – it isn’t necessarily dead in the water, but it does need a revamp.
“As an ex-conveyancer, I wouldn’t want to see CQS disappear because it does have a protocol which is followed to some degree by up to 3,000 firms. The protocol can, and does, help reduce delays, stress and additional cost for consumers.”
Hailstone added that he hoped the Law Society would engage with the conveyancing community about possible changes.
“They should take a step back, take a long hard look at what has happened and take away the positives.”
He also noted that enforcement couldn’t all be down to the Law Society itself.
“It’s difficult, if not impossible for the Law Society to police CQS effectively, it is down to individual conveyancers to help police it,” Hailstone continued.
“But many firms say to me they do not want to report a firm they know from down the road. Conveyancers can’t have their cake and eat it. They need to get over that and report other firms when the CQS is breached.”
The Law Society told Mortgage Solutions: “The intention of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme has always been to promote the highest standards of conveyancing practice and ensure consumer and lender confidence in conveyancing transactions.
“We are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the CQS and will say more about this in the New Year.”