SRA Transparency Rules. Grace period is at an end.
We previously published a blog on how your firm should be complying with the SRA Transparency Rules (‘the Rules’). Despite the Rules coming into force in December 2018 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘the SRA’) is still finding that a small minority of firms are not meeting the required standards. As a result, the SRA has now begun its clampdown on some firms and recently announced the first four sanctions.
So what are the SRA Transparency Rules and why do firms need to comply? These are some of the questions that we have recently received in our inbox. Read on for some tips and guidance.
What are the SRA Transparency Rules?
Introduction of the Rules followed the Competition and Markets Authority’s legal services market study of 2016, which concluded that the absence of sufficient information on price, quality and service hindered the ability of consumers and small businesses to engage with the market. It recommended that regulators, including the SRA, set a new minimum standard for the information published by those firms they regulated.
Do all firms need to comply with the Rules?
Some parts of the Rules (complaints and the SRA Digital Badge) are mandatory to all firms. The Rules only require your firm to publish price and service information if it is offering work in the following areas: conveyancing (residential); probate (uncontested); motoring offences (summary offences); immigration (excluding asylum); employment tribunals (unfair/wrongful dismissal); debt recovery for businesses (up to £100,000) and licensing applications (business premises).
What information do I need to publish?
Firms within scope of the Rules are required to publish information about price and service. All firms, regardless of their work areas, are also required to publish details of their complaints handling procedure and display, in a prominent place on the website, its SRA Number and the SRA Digital Badge.
Price information must be presented in a clear and easy to understand format. A firm must also provide a total cost, if this is not possible provide an average or range of costs; explain the basis of charges, including any hourly rate or fixed fees; highlight likely disbursements, and their costs; be clear on whether VAT is included and, for conditional or damages-based fees, explain when clients may have to make payments.
For service information a firm must explain what services are included for the quoted price; highlight any services not included within the price, which a client may reasonably expect to be; include information on key stages and typical timescales of these and publish the qualifications and experience of anyone carrying out the work and of their supervisors.
On complaints, all firms must publish details of its complaints handling procedure including, details about how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman and to the SRA. From our work in this area we are finding that complaints policies often omit reference to how a complaint can be made to the SRA.
What happens if I don’t comply?
The SRA has already taken a pragmatic approach with those firms who have not fully complied with the Rules. Interestingly a ‘soft launch’ of the Rules took place in November 2018, with mandatory requirements coming into force 12 months later. Although the Rules have formally been in place for over a year, the SRA have only now announced the first four sanctions against firms who have, despite being repeating warned through engagement, failed to comply. What is clear is that the SRA will now be allocating more resource to investigating issues of non-compliance, and the grace period afforded to firms during the initial COVID period has come to an end.
How we can help?
Although the SRA has provided useful templates to meet these requirements, we have found that taking a bespoke approach to publishing this information has clear benefits and will make your website standout from its competitors. It is also a good opportunity to review other parts of your website and bring it up to date. Profiles for departed members of staff often remain on websites for a number of months.
If you are in any doubt as to what you need to include on your website, Compliance Legal can assist. From the firms that have instructed us the most common themes emerging include a lack of time and understanding of the requirements, as well as issues encountered with individual website designers.
Compliance Legal can project manage your transparency requirements, and our web designing team will also review your site to ensure that it is compliant with the Rules. For firms who do not have a website our teams can design and delivery bespoke solutions to meet your requirements.
If you would like further assistance with this then please contact us today.