Will writers that are not regulated are being used as consumers say they offer cheaper services with more transparent pricing and higher levels of innovation according to a report by the Legal Services Board.
The report looked at a sample of 265 will writing and estate administration websites, of the 1,600 they say exist.
However the report also says the sector is much smaller than previously thought, making up just 5% of providers of paid advice and assistance over legal problems. The LSB looked at unregulated providers across family law, divorce and will writers, with the slice of the unregulated sector with the highest proportion of for-profit unregulated provision was family, where unregulated providers represent just over 10% of individuals getting a divorce.
The research also suggests that satisfaction with customer service is broadly comparable across regulated and unregulated providers. It recognises the risks that unregulated providers could present to consumers, which include misleading advertising claims and consumers not understanding fully that these services are unregulated.
According to the research there are around 1,000 will writers who also offer estate administration in England and Wales, 80 DIY or automated services, and 600 professionals who only offer will writing.
The research also states that those will writers produce 65,000 wills per year, 9% of those purchased, bringing in a total revenue of £6.1 million.
Of those 1,000, 42% are voluntarily regulated by the Society of Will Writers and 15% by the Institute of Professional Will Writers. Around one in three have law degrees with one in five having a financial services background.
The average regulated single will is £40 more than an unregulated, with the unregulated costing an average of £136. 74% meet clients in their own home with 14% meeting clients in an office. 8% are online, with some providers offering multiple ways of meeting clients. However 99% of meetings are home visits.
Legal Services Board’s Chairman Sir Michael Pitt said: “This is an important piece of work. We hear too much anecdote about the unregulated parts of the legal sector and alleged problems associated with such providers.
“This new research suggests that the unregulated sector is neither as big nor as problematic as some have suggested. The research provides a balanced view of this part of the legal services market and allows us a better understanding as to why consumers might use it. It is however, very important that consumers make informed decisions to use unregulated providers. They will receive less protection than if using a regulated provider and it is of concern if they are accepting this without realising the lack of consumer protection.
“Our research found that although most consumers check whether their provider is regulated a significant minority do not, many simply assuming they would be. It is important that consumers weigh up the potential benefits and risks.”