Monday 16 April 2012 by Michael Cross
The ability of regulators' financial protection arrangements to cope with the high level of firms in distress is to come under the scrutiny of the consumer legal watchdog.
In its work programme for 2012-13, published today, the Legal Services Consumer Panel says the capacity of protection regimes 'has come under scrutiny in the solicitors' profession due to unprecedented levels of claims on the compensation fund, escalating insurance premiums and rising numbers of businesses in financial distress'.
The panel's study will include research on consumers on an 'appropriate balance of risk', drawing on the experience of other sectors, such as financial services. The panel also plans to identify new groups of consumers who find it difficult to gain access to legal services, building on a study last year of deaf and hard of hearing clients.
Elisabeth Davies, the panel's chair, said: 'It's vital that someone's ability to access legal services is not disadvantaged due to their personal circumstances, but our recent research with deaf people has shown that sadly this is often not the case for consumers in vulnerable positions. We're keen to explore the experiences of other groups of consumers who may face barriers to accessing legal advice.'
Rationalising the regulation of legal services will also be a 'major strand' of the work of the year ahead, the panel says. This involves work on voluntary quality schemes, for example around 'competition and independent accreditation of the schemes'.
The consumer panel was established under the Legal Services Act 2007 to advise the Legal Services Board on consumers' interests. Its long-term future is still uncertain under government 'bonfire of quangos' plans to consolidate consumer advocacy activities into a single body.