CLC chair tells profession: Don’t confuse ‘assisted compliance’ with light-touch regulation

4 November, 2022

Resorting to disciplinary action is a symptom of regulatory failure but ‘assisted compliance’ is not the easy option, the chair of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) said today.

Speaking at the SLC annual conference in Derby, Dame Janet described assisted compliance – a collaborative approach to achieving compliance – as “a unique strength of the CLC model”.

She continued: “We can also describe that as helping you deal with issues before they become a real problem or cause actual harm to the client or public interest. We want to avoid as far as possible having to impose disciplinary sanctions. That is a symptom of failure of the process of client protection and our assisted compliance approach.”

The low number of disciplinary cases against licensed conveyancers should not be misunderstood as the CLC being a light-touch regulator, Dame Janet cautioned.

“Of course, if there is persistent non-compliance or actual harm occurs, then we have to move to our disciplinary tools. Our approach to regulation is intensive, involving as it does very close monitoring of the regulated community and close working with them to achieve compliance.”

But assisted compliance depended on frankness and candour on the part of lawyers and firms, Dame Janet said. Without it, “you will be much more likely to find yourself facing disciplinary action”.

Co-operation was also needed with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), whose costs Dame Janet described as “eye-wateringly high” – last year, the charge to the CLC-regulated community was £655,000, even though only around 300 complaints reached it.

“We have been working hard to persuade LeO to take steps to reduce its costs. We are delighted that its pilot of ‘early resolution’ of complaints that look appropriate for settlement without investigation is being so successful.

“In some cases, complainants are told that their complaint has no merit or the offer from the firm is reasonable. In others, LeO recommends that the firm improve its offer slightly. This kind of quick action is a great approach and is how the LeO scheme was intended to operate.

“But it does need firms to cooperate with it. I am sorry that we see examples of a very small number of firms not engaging effectively or at all with the process. This is not in their interests as it will likely mean that resolving the complaint will end up costing more time and money than it needs to.”

Dame Janet used the speech to highlight the growth in the CLC community. Its collective turnover in 2020 was £277m, almost three time more than 2009/10, when the industry had recovered from the global financial crisis. It rose by an “astonishing” 26% to £349m in the year to April 2021.

“I hope it means that firms have a war chest to get them through what looks set to be a turbulent period for the global economy and we are advising practices to stress-test their business against the possibility of a downturn in transaction volumes.”

Dame Janet asked the SLC to consider what role it could play in addressing the challenges faced by conveyancing practitioners. “We simply must make progress to a more streamlined, faster, more secure approach to conveyancing in the client and public interest. We all need to move forward together down that road. And the CLC and the SLC have different and complimentary parts to play.

Dame Janet Paraskeva also urged the Society of Licensed Conveyancers (SLC) – as the representative body for the sector – to promote the profession to consumers.

Practices that did not keep up with developments “risk finding themselves left behind quite quickly”.

But there were limits to what a regulator could properly do. “The CLC simply cannot spend any money or resource promoting the profession to consumers. We need your help attracting new members of the profession and practices that might benefit from our specialist regulation of conveyancing and probate.

“The SLC has been very active in that field in the past and I ask you to redouble those efforts now. It is vital for the long-term health of the profession. We also need the SLC to be a partner in the work to ensure that CLC lawyers not only grasp but shape the opportunities of modernisation and digitisation of conveyancing and probate services.”

CLC chair tells profession: Don’t confuse ‘assisted compliance’ with light-touch regulation

Resorting to disciplinary action is a symptom of regulatory failure but ‘assisted compliance’ is not the easy option, the chair of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) said today.

Speaking at the SLC annual conference in Derby, Dame Janet described assisted compliance – a collaborative approach to achieving compliance – as “a unique strength of the CLC model”.

She continued: “We can also describe that as helping you deal with issues before they become a real problem or cause actual harm to the client or public interest. We want to avoid as far as possible having to impose disciplinary sanctions. That is a symptom of failure of the process of client protection and our assisted compliance approach.”

The low number of disciplinary cases against licensed conveyancers should not be misunderstood as the CLC being a light-touch regulator, Dame Janet cautioned.

“Of course, if there is persistent non-compliance or actual harm occurs, then we have to move to our disciplinary tools. Our approach to regulation is intensive, involving as it does very close monitoring of the regulated community and close working with them to achieve compliance.”

But assisted compliance depended on frankness and candour on the part of lawyers and firms, Dame Janet said. Without it, “you will be much more likely to find yourself facing disciplinary action”.

Co-operation was also needed with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), whose costs Dame Janet described as “eye-wateringly high” – last year, the charge to the CLC-regulated community was £655,000, even though only around 300 complaints reached it.

“We have been working hard to persuade LeO to take steps to reduce its costs. We are delighted that its pilot of ‘early resolution’ of complaints that look appropriate for settlement without investigation is being so successful.

“In some cases, complainants are told that their complaint has no merit or the offer from the firm is reasonable. In others, LeO recommends that the firm improve its offer slightly. This kind of quick action is a great approach and is how the LeO scheme was intended to operate.

“But it does need firms to cooperate with it. I am sorry that we see examples of a very small number of firms not engaging effectively or at all with the process. This is not in their interests as it will likely mean that resolving the complaint will end up costing more time and money than it needs to.”

Dame Janet used the speech to highlight the growth in the CLC community. Its collective turnover in 2020 was £277m, almost three time more than 2009/10, when the industry had recovered from the global financial crisis. It rose by an “astonishing” 26% to £349m in the year to April 2021.

“I hope it means that firms have a war chest to get them through what looks set to be a turbulent period for the global economy and we are advising practices to stress-test their business against the possibility of a downturn in transaction volumes.”

Dame Janet asked the SLC to consider what role it could play in addressing the challenges faced by conveyancing practitioners. “We simply must make progress to a more streamlined, faster, more secure approach to conveyancing in the client and public interest. We all need to move forward together down that road. And the CLC and the SLC have different and complimentary parts to play.

Dame Janet Paraskeva also urged the Society of Licensed Conveyancers (SLC) – as the representative body for the sector – to promote the profession to consumers.

Practices that did not keep up with developments “risk finding themselves left behind quite quickly”.

But there were limits to what a regulator could properly do. “The CLC simply cannot spend any money or resource promoting the profession to consumers. We need your help attracting new members of the profession and practices that might benefit from our specialist regulation of conveyancing and probate.

“The SLC has been very active in that field in the past and I ask you to redouble those efforts now. It is vital for the long-term health of the profession. We also need the SLC to be a partner in the work to ensure that CLC lawyers not only grasp but shape the opportunities of modernisation and digitisation of conveyancing and probate services.”

Read the full speech

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