11:06 AM, 18th September 2020, About 9 months ago
Any firm or solicitors offering a specialist eviction service can operate under a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) licence. However, if they operate without an SRA licence they will not have the legal authority to complete many parts of the process.
This has created a grey area into which many unlicensed firms, many calling themselves ‘lawyers’ have leapt offering cut-price services that often fail to deliver the same level of service or competencies as a licenced operation. This grey area exists because the SRA’s remit means it can only deal with the actions of those solicitors or the firms they run under the Solicitors Act 1974.
Even if an unlicensed firm employs an in house solicitor they still cannot provide ‘reserved’ activity through organisations that the SRA does not regulate.
Certain legal roles are reserved activities which only qualified and licenced solicitors can complete, and that includes key parts of the possession proceedings. Non-licenced companies can assist and advise, but its representatives are barred from representing clients in court or engaging in certain legal procedures.
There are dozens and possibly hundreds of companies who offer an unlicensed eviction service in the UK, often including the word ‘lawyer’ in their company names or websites who continue unchecked or policed. They are easy to spot because they are usually much cheaper than licenced eviction specialists, but all too often we pick up cases from landlords who have gone for the cheap option but who then find out that the paperwork has not been prepared properly and their cases are thrown out by the judge.
This situation has been continuing for years, despite a test case in 2018 concerning a possession case in Birmingham (Kassam vs Singh) during which the judge made it clear that he considered the way in which unlicensed companies operate to be unlawful under the Legal Services Act 2007.
As that case also highlighted, procedural mistakes made by unregulated eviction companies can be both costly and waste a lot of time for landlords, and without the indemnity insurance afforded by an SRA licence, landlords have little recourse other than to take the company to court to recoup their losses. Little progress has been made towards regulating or licensing the entire sector (rather than just parts of it) since the Kassam vs Singh case.
Change could be coming though as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) last week told an industry conference that it is considering whether to create a register of unregulated providers of legal services and give their clients access to redress if things go wrong.
Peter Rowlinson, head of UK legal services policy at the MoJ said that it doesn’t make sense that while the client of a lawyer advising on a will, for example, had the protection of both regulation, indemnity insurance and access to the Legal Ombudsman, the client of an unregulated provider did not.
In the private rental market, this issue of parallel ‘egal services provision is particularly pressing because many more landlords will soon be seeking help as they attempt to remove tenants who have defaulted on their rent before, during or after Covid-19.