Solicitors are accused of secrecy over fees

STEPHEN WARD

Legal Affairs Correspondent

Solicitors frequently fail to tell clients what their fees will be, or charge hundreds of pounds more than they have quoted, Citizens' Advice Bureaux say today.

More than 350 bureaux across the country gave evidence to a detailed criticism of the legal system, Barriers to Justice. The report says it is even more crucial now that all but the very poor have to pay their own bills, because legal aid entitlement is so limited.

"One of the major areas of complaint by CAB clients concerns a lack of information about costs. This is despite the existence of written professional standards setting out the details that solicitors should give to clients about their fees."

It is often hard for clients to raise the issue of likely costs if the solicitor does not mention it, the report says.

"The Law Society's written professional standards cover information that should be given to clients on costs and estimates, and keeping clients informed about charges, but CAB evidence shows that these standards are too often ignored."

The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux says these standards should be enforced by the Law Society. At the moment they are advisory.

The society's standards state that on taking instructions, a solicitor should give the client the best possible information about the likely costs. When writing to confirm the instructions, the solicitor should record the fee agreed, tell the client of any other reasonably foreseeable charges and confirm any verbal estimate. If no fee has been agreed, the solicitor is supposed to say how the fees will be calculated.

But among the cases reported by the CABs is one in Berkshire where an elderly couple seeking access to their grandchild went in asking for legal aid, so it was clear they were short of money. They were given no estimate and were charged pounds 4,000.

In another, a woman in Essex used a solicitor to go back to court to get a better divorce settlement and was told it was impossible to estimate costs. She got an extra pounds 50 a month and the solicitor suggested she paid his pounds 2,400 bill at pounds 50 a month for the next five years.

Cases where solicitors have failed to warn that charges are higher than forecast include a woman in West Glamorgan who was told her divorce would cost pounds 400. With no warning, the final bill was pounds 900. A man in Cumbria changing the name on the deeds of his house from single to joint names was quoted pounds 80 by his solicitor and charged pounds 228, reduced to pounds 176 when he asked for an itemised bill.

In other cases, solicitors failed to warn that their costs were likely to exceed any benefits from the legal action. In one, a woman in Oxfordshire was claiming pounds 660 through the small claims court. She was awarded pounds 360, and her legal bill was pounds 1,100.

A spokesman for the Law Society said that the reports were noted with concern. It was constantly attempting to improve client care and would soon launch a campaign to try to encourage law firms to comply with practice guidelines. He pointed out that CABs by their nature encountered only disatisfied customers.

The CAB survey about lack of information given to clients is supported by the findings of the Law Society's own research earlier this year, which found almost a quarter of conveyancing and will-writing clients and more than one-third of other clients had received no information on costs.

t Barriers to Justice; Social Policy Section, NACAB; 115-123 Pentonville Road, London N1 9LZ; pounds 8.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam