According to the Solicitors Complaints Bureau, which is part of the Law Society, 2,841 people took advantage of their 'remuneration certificate scheme' in 1992 - 10 per cent less than in 1991. Solicitors are, with the encouragement of the Law Society, setting out their terms and conditions better, and giving estimates before taking on new work. Nevertheless, the SCB finds that solicitors have overcharged in about a third of the disputes that it investigates.
The scheme can only be used for non-contentious matters such as conveyancing and probate. People who think they are being overcharged should ask their solicitors to apply to the SCB to review their fees.
In one case last year, the SCB reduced a pounds 100,000 bill to about pounds 30,000. The solicitor had charged a 1 per cent fee to perform the probate work on a pounds 1m estate. The SCB decided the fee should be reduced because the work had been so straightforward. In another case, the Bureau decided a pounds 150 bill should not be paid at all because the solicitor had not arranged a mortgage for his client, as instructed.
The SCB (071-834 2288) supplies free guidelines explaining how the system works. Anyone thinking of using the system should consult the Bureau in advance. The scheme has strict time limits and does not apply if a solicitor's bill has been paid without first instructing him to apply for a certificate.