SRA review to take place after West Yorkshire law firm went into administration and 200 workers made redundant

After a West Yorkshire law firm went into administration in January The Legal Services Board (LSB) has announced an independent review of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) regulatory actions in the lead-up to the collapse of SSB Group. It was revealed in the national news that scores of former clients have been left grappling with unexpected legal bills.

The demise of Sheffield’s SSB Law came as staggering debts amounting £200million were owed to six litigation funders. Almost 200 workers were made redundant and sought support from advisory firm FRP with applications to the Redundancy Payments Service. The financial challenges came as SSB had over 43,000 cases on it’s books and the firm’s operational costs did not match the caseload.

A spokesperson for Hugh James, a top 100 law firm which is now acting for former clients of SSB Law, said:

“Our clients are seeking compensation after their cases were lost, struck out or withdrawn, through no fault of their own, and as a consequence they’re now facing huge legal bills.

“We understand there could be in excess of 1,500 CWI claims which have failed, and ex-clients will now face legal bills mounting up to £35,000 on average or more.”

There has been a considerable human toll after SSB’s downfall, Hugh James confirmed that the majority of victims they have spoken with are in West Yorkshire and Lancashire. This average legal bill is well above the median salary in Yorkshire and the Humber, which sat at £31,900 in 2023 according to Statistia.

Former client and taxi driver Jamil Zafar, from Halifax, received a bill for more than £18,900. Speaking to the BBC, he said:

“Being a taxi driver, how do I pay this amount of money? It has broken me from inside. I can’t even work properly. The figure is on my mind all the time.” 

The LSB will add this review to the scope of its current review into regulatory events prior to SRA’s intervention into London based Axiom Ince in December. It remains the aim to report on Axiom in spring 2024, with the review in relation to SSB Group and overall learning and conclusions being reported in the summer.

They said: 

“Given the considerable consumer detriment, the Board believes that it is important to understand the regulatory events in relation to both firms. Learning from these cases will be vital for public and professional confidence.”

Qurrah Ahmed, whose father was slapped with a bill of £13,000, was moved to set up a support group for similar victims. In a social media post, Ahmed said, “There are a lot of people in this situation, including my father. SSB Law have mainly targeted vulnerable groups of people … it’s disgusting what SSB Law have done.” 

Ahmed told the national press:

“We have people messaging us at 3am, 4am as they can’t sleep as the anxiety is eating them up. These people are not functioning … their mental health is severely affected.” 

The gravity of the situation prompted Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham to raise concerns in Parliament at the beginning of this month. 

Law Society of England and Wales chief executive officer Ian Jeffery said:

“We welcomed the LSB carrying out an independent review of the events leading to the collapse of Axiom Ince and the SRA’s intervention to close the firm. We similarly welcome this independent review of regulatory actions in the lead-up to the collapse of SSB Group, which also raises concerns about the timely detection of and protection against consumer detriment.

As the oversight body responsible for assessing and monitoring effective and transparent regulatory performance, the LSB has the necessary investigation and enforcement powers to ensure that the events and regulatory actions relating to such serious incidents are fully brought to light.

We stand ready to work with the LSB and, as appropriate, the SRA to ensure that all proper assurance is provided to the public and to our members.”

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