Professional Standards Board sharpens “blunt stick”

The Professional Standards Board (PSB), the committee set up to provide oversight and governance for The Society of Will Writers, has strengthened its remit in an effort to beef up consumer protection, consumer confidence and professional standards.

In a recent podcast with Today’s Wills and Probate, Nick Ash, Managing Director of W&P Legal Services and a member of the PSB explains the plans to host David Opie, ahead of the Society of Will Writers (SWW) Conference at East Midlands Airport Hotel on Monday 9th and Tuesday 10th October 2023

Despite what might be considered an enviable record, having expelled just 2 members in the last 2 years Ash describes the current powers of the PSB as bit like a “blunt stick.” Simply expelling members currently “doesn’t help the consumer… doesn’t help the member get better, (and) doesn’t help the society.”

A more nuanced plan for oversight and governance will be included in the new Code of Practice which will be implemented in 2024, Ash will tell Society members at the Conference.

The new powers will enable the PSB to widen the scope of their complaints investigations. Where currently the PSB deals only with complaints from clients of member firms, going forward their remit will include mis-selling and misleading advertising, and individuals bringing the profession into disrepute.

The new code of practice will also introduce a 3 tier disciplinary structure. In the first instance the member will be given the opportunity to review the reasons for the complaints and why the PSB has upheld it. The new code places an onus on the PSB to support the firm to take remedial steps to put the situation right, including any compensation.

If the member fails to engage with the issue a second warning will trigger the publishing of the judgement, and the remedial action, on the SWW website. A third warning results in expulsion.
“Nobody should be afraid of it” Says Ash, “it’s about consumer protection and confidence, and improving standards,” describing the new code as “part of warding off the threat of formal statutory regulation.”

The elephant in the room is that fact that organisations can continue to operate even if they are expelled from the SWW, with limited or no repercussions, suggests Opie.

“That’s true. That’s why the PSB is bullish about regulation, mandatory training and mandatory CPD is already a part of membership. Mandatory membership of an approved organisation might be the interim step that staves off regulation for a while.”

Adds Ash.

The podcast discusses a number of issues relating to regulation and the recent launch of the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into will writing and pre-paid probate, which raises concerns around:

  • Consumers being misled by advertising which offers an extremely low initial fee for advice but does not indicate that final costs can increase significantly
  • The use of potentially unfair contract terms, such as exclusions of liability, failure to provide cancellation rights, and terms which automatically appoint the firm as executor (often for a fee)
  • Reports of pressure selling and coercion of vulnerable customers

Listen in the podcast in full here:

Details of the responses to the CMA investigation from the SWW and PSB can be found here

The Society of Will Writers Conference will take place at East Midlands Airport Hotel on Monday 9th and Tuesday 10th October 2023.

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