Darlington law firm, Latimer Hinks, has advised customers to act with ‘caution and common sense’, following a report by legal watchdog the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) revealing that more than a third of conveyancing specialists have charged fees in excess of initial quotes.
The recent report (Residential Conveyancing Thematic Review) found that 37 per cent of firms were not disclosing costs including administration fees, bank transfers, access to online portals, and identification checks.
It also found that 23% of firms observed in the report had not adequately explained the difference between freehold and leasehold to clients, and more than a fifth of clients interviewed did not feel that additional charges, such as ground rent or service charges, had been disclosed to them at the time of sale.
The report has led to six firms being referred to the regulators for disciplinary action.
The report follows the SRA’s introduction of price transparency regulations in December 2018, which means solicitors are legally obliged to display their prices clearly and in an easy to understand format on the firm’s website.
The SRA prescribes several areas which must be outlined for the customers, including whether VAT is included in the cost, how cost is worked out, including hourly and fixed fees, any services not included in the quoted cost, and conditional fees which may be included.
Martin Williamson, Head of Residential Property at Latimer Hinks Solicitors, said:
“The legal aspect of moving house can be very complex, and the majority of people preparing to move putting absolute trust in their solicitors. I am shocked that the watchdog has found that some conveyancing specialists have not been open and transparent about their costs, which is a highly regulated part of the job. This can lead to clients being disadvantaged long term.”
Martin added: “However, it is important to note that some transactions can be more complicated than they appear at the outset, and a solicitor can give a quote in good faith, only to find that that the case requires more work than anticipated and costs justifiably increase as a result.
“So, while it is important for solicitors to be open and honest about how their charges are calculated, clients should also be aware that if the transaction is more complicated than it seems at the outset, the final cost may not match the initial estimate.”