22 May, 2020
A revised accounts code that expressly allows firms regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) to use third-party managed accounts (TPMAs), and deal more easily with aged balances up to £50, have been submitted this week to the Legal Services Board.
The new rules contain simpler, more targeted requirements to make the code easier to understand, improving compliance and consumer protection.
The application to the LSB says clarifying the code and reducing opportunities for lawyers to be in technical breach of the code where there is no risk to client money encourages an effective legal profession at no impact to client protection.
“Less prescriptive rules can lead to lower costs and higher efficiency savings… [and] mean that practices will need to properly assess the needs of their clients and how they ensure compliance rather than relying on detailed rules which may become a tick-box exercise.”
It says “explicitly allowing the use of a TPMA will mean that CLC-regulated firms have more choice and flexibility in the operation of their business: Having the option to not use a client account could enable a practice to reallocate resources to focus on the quality and competitiveness of its services.”
CLC firms can only use TPMAs regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, and firms must also be authorised by the CLC to enter arrangements with a client to use a TPMA.
Firms must ensure that the decision to use a TPMA, and the TPMA provider used, is “appropriate in the circumstances of each case”.
It is proposed that CLC practices have greater flexibility in the management of aged balances up to £50, whilst maintaining the principle that they are paid to the person entitled to them once they have been identified.
Simon Blandy, Director of Regulatory Standards at the CLC, says: “Our revised code will have a positive impact on the protection and promotion of the public interest.
“We have applied our principles-based outcomes focused approach to regulation in reviewing and refreshing the Accounts Code. Removing unnecessary detail emphasises the most important aspects of the proper management of client money, while ensuring protection of the client’s interests.
“Simpler rules are also easier for consumers to understand and promote competition by minimising regulatory burdens on firms.”
The revised Code was the subject of consultation in 2017 and 2019 and the draft Guidance was consulted on in 2020. Subject to the Legal Service Board’s approval, the new code will come into force on 30 September 2020.
A practice needs to take active steps to ensure all client monies are properly paid out at the conclusion of a matter. After 12 months any monies remaining on the client ledger are treated as ‘aged balances’. If the rules are approved, CLC practices would be allowed to determine – without needing the regulator’s permission – whether any balances of up to £50 should be transferred to the office account, paid to a charity or to the CLC’s compensation fund. The CLC will reimburse monies owed out of its compensation fund and the practice will reimburse monies owed which are paid either to its office account or to a charity.
A third-party managed account (TPMA) is an account where a payment service provider holds money on behalf of two or more transacting parties. In a TPMA the money is held by the third-party provider and contractual arrangements stipulate how the monies are to be used. The money is held by the third-party provider in their name, the account is not in the name of either (or both) of the contracting parties.