Advisers might well be sanguine about a service which can often be appalling but is part of the territory of being an adviser.
This is especially so when dealing with a market which is heavily remortgage-focused and where the word ‘free’ tends to cut through rather effectively when a client is choosing their conveyancer.
What we are not willing to accept, however, is a situation where fees-free solicitors are trying to eke out money from a client for services which they do not need.
That, I’m afraid, has happened far too frequently in recent months and it’s a practise which deserves to be exposed for what it truly is – an attempt to prise money out of a client who may have little idea that they’re being charged for something they don’t even need.
Supposed to be free
It becomes even more outrageous when you question the conveyancer on the client’s behalf about these ‘extra fees’ and the firm in question quickly removes them from the completion statement of receipts and payments.
Take, for instance, the ‘copy of the title registration’ which is routinely added onto a statement, in the expectation that the client or adviser spots that they do not actually want or need this, and then contacts the conveyancer to have this removed.
This is, remember, part of what is supposed to be a ‘fees-free’ arrangement.
Every time we have seen this happening, we’ve pointed out to the client that they do not need such a ‘service’ and the conveyancer has been informed and taken it off the statement.
But how many times is this simply being overlooked? How much money are conveyancers making off clients with this kind of trick?
Less morally reprehensible option
Wouldn’t it be far fairer, and less morally reprehensible, for the conveyancer to have an ‘opt-in’ policy for such services, where the client can tell them they want such documentation, rather than the ‘opt out’ service they have currently?
Now, conveyancers might be working on wafer-thin margins, when it comes to their fees-free business, but that’s their choice.
And let’s remind everyone that this is supposed to be ‘free legals’ not ‘free legals but we’ll attempt to charge you in order to up our income on the case’.
Conveyancers might suggest that this is all detailed in their initial service letters to the clients, but it does not make it right.
Nail in free legal coffin
In our view, the way conveyancers go about their business needs to change and the fact that what we’ve described above is going on should perhaps also be a nail in the coffin for the use of ‘free legals’.
We would like to see all lenders offering an alternative cashback option anyway, which we could then advise the client to spend with a platform that can provide them with their own solicitors or representation for that cashback amount.
At the same time, it would make all our lives easier as:
- our clients would get proper representation,
- we’re far more likely to complete on time
- we can work with a business which is also working on behalf of our client(s).
It’s not rocket science but the sooner we get more lenders on board, the better.