The Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel: Conveyancers4Consumers

Since 2011, the Legal Services Consumer Panel has published an Annual Tracker survey[i] about how consumers are choosing and using legal services.

This important research has helped drive the transparency agenda championed by the CMA[ii].

Taking a deeper dive into the Panel’s research produces some perhaps unsurprising findings. For example, it finds that the most-used legal service is conveyancing, at 36%. It seems even in a very challenging housing market, the British attachment to owning one’s own home remains strong.

Whether we all like it or not, the Panel’s research also shows that price is the most important factor for consumers choosing conveyancing (82%).[iii] But, perhaps reassuringly, the research reveals that consumer satisfaction with conveyancing is high[iv] with over 90% satisfied with the outcome and over 80% satisfied with the service. But do these findings tell the whole story? For example, were over 90% satisfied with the outcome simply because they managed to buy their dream home, or avoided buying a home that was falling down? Were over 80% satisfied with the service from their conveyancer but dissatisfied with the process of buying their home? Isn’t one in five dis-satisfied actually pretty poor?

And do these findings tell the real story? How does the average consumer judge whether the process that led to their house purchase really has been as good as it should have been, given their lack of technical and professional knowledge. To think that high user satisfaction, or satisfaction of outcome tell the whole story, in my view, risks complacency from conveyancers. In March 2018, the SRA published a detailed research report[v] which delved deeper into exactly what the consumer experience is of buying and selling a home. It did not make for happy reading; for example, 37% of dissatisfied consumers said this was because the service was slow or inefficient. Their overall conclusion was a call for ‘clearer conveyancing information, especially for first time buyers’.

In fact, in the last year or so, hardly a week has gone by without another research report or consultation probing one aspect or another of how we buy homes in England and Wales, offering up recommendations on how it ought to change and numerous failures in the process, some potentially very serious indeed, for example about leasehold houses. Here’s a snapshot: we’re told ‘consumers don’t trust law firms referred by estate agents[vi], the Law Commission launched a review of Commonhold[vii], the Government set out how it wanted to tackle ‘unfair practices in the leasehold market’[viii], while digitising and centralising Land Registry reforms were back on the agenda[ix]. And just this week, new research shows that most home-buyers choose a conveyancer on their estate agent’s recommendation but are in the dark about whether a referral fee was paid.

But perhaps most significantly in April 2018 the Government published a response to their consultation on ‘Improving the home buying and selling process’[xi]. It started with the Minister’s very blunt assessment: ‘We all know that the current home buying and selling process in England is not fit for purpose. It is stressful, time-consuming and costly for buyers and sellers alike – with over a quarter of house sales falling through each year’. The report goes on to list a range of measures the Government will take to reform the home buying and selling process. Interestingly, just as this Panel has argued, the Government also acknowledge that price is not necessarily a good metric for consumers to make informed choices. The report states: We want consumers to be able to make a more informed choice of conveyancer which considers service levels, not just price.

It’s time to really put the consumer first, and move on from the traditional blame game and passing the buck, to secure actual improvements. Ten years after the ill-fated but well intentioned Home Information Packs, and after countless research reports, I still don’t see meaningful change or leadership driving consumer-focused transformation.

From my own personal experience, writing as a relatively well-informed consumer who has bought and sold two houses in the last three years, my recent conveyancing experience was so awful that I’m amazed 100% of consumers don’t express some dis-satisfaction with both the process and the service. Would anyone like to tell me just how wrong I am?

Mark McLaren

The author, a member of the LSCP since January 2017, declares an interest as a Non-Executive Director of the Property Ombudsman




Kindly shared by Legal Services Consumer Panel