The SRA are increasing their visits to Solicitors, currently focusing on the Equality & Diversity (E&D) Thematic Reviews. However, from our widespread relationships with legal firms across England & Wales, those that have received a visit are finding visits aren’t restricted just to E&D!
A firm recently experiencing an E&D Thematic Review confirmed the SRA also reviewed a selection of files during their visit, querying the amount they charge to clients for an AML electronic ID check. Searches cost the firm £4, but charged to a client varying amounts from £6 to £15, plus VAT depending on the Introducer involved, with the Introducer confirming the cost on their instruction(s) to the mutual client.
The SRA confirmed they were not comfortable with the firm adding a premium of more than £4 – £6 above the cost of the search – effectively bringing the total client cost at between £8 & £10. It was also informed that it was not acceptable that one client should be paying £6 whilst another pays £15 for the same search process. The SRA instructed the firm to rectify the situation, penalties have been imposed (we don’t have full details of these) and will be subject to an SRA revisit in 3 months.
This is the first time we have received SRA feedback on electronic ID searches and their approach to a fee mark-up acceptable for these searches. This firm doesn’t deal with Conveyancing cases. However, the same scenario will be applicable to property searches, especially the different pricing that clients pay for their search packs depending on the Introducer involved. Telegraphic / CHAPS transfer fees will be another area that needs to be reviewed within your firm.
You are well advised to complete a set of file reviews focusing specifically on these issues so that you have the information to confirm if there are any concerns and / or any changes you need to be make.