Website Transparency – Haven’t we done this already?

As part of our ‘Technical Corner’ we want to bring you information that will help you to continue to learn and grow in your career.

This month’s technical corner article comes from Amy Bell, Director of Teal Compliance.

Amy Bell

We have seen an increase in the enquiries we have had about compliance with the Transparency Rules.

You may be aware that the Solicitors Regulation Authority has been regularly reviewing websites and inviting firms to make a declaration that their website is compliant. They announced in January this year that they are taking disciplinary action against firms who do not comply. https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/press/transparency-enforcement-starts/. They have also confirmed their work in this area is continuing, so it is likely they will eventually check yours.

What is required?

The SRA Transparency Rules (the Rules) came into force back in December 2018 requiring firms to publish price and service information if they publish that they work in the following areas:

  • Residential conveyancing.
  • Probate (uncontested).
  • Motoring offences (summary offences).
  • Immigration (excluding asylum).
  • Employment tribunals (unfair/wrongful dismissal).
  • Debt recovery (up to £100,000).
  • Licensing applications (business premises).

If your firm doesn’t have a website, you must still have this information available upon request in other formats.

The Rules also require all firms to publish details of their complaints procedure on their website, including how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman and to the SRA. From 25 November 2019 firms were also required to display the SRA’s digital logo in a prominent place on their website.

What have the SRA found?

In the report of their sweep in 2019 of 447 live websites, only 25% of firms were fully compliant with the Rules. In the other 75%, 58% were partially compliant and 17% were not compliant with the Rules at all. https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/how-we-work/reports/web-sweep/

However, the SRA did provide useful feedback on the most common areas of non-compliance which were:

  • failing to publish the required complaints information.
  • failing to specify the amount of VAT applied to costs and disbursements.
  • failing to display information on key stages and/or timescales.
  • failing to provide a description or costs of likely disbursements.

In our experience we also see failures to provide sufficient information about service, in particular the experience and qualification of people working on the file and that the information is not “prominent”.

What should you do?

Many we’ve spoken to thought that their websites were in fact compliant when the SRA have written to them and are quite surprised to have been identified as non-compliant. Here are my tips for getting compliance right:

  1. Take some time to check now. The SRA is periodically checking, and when they do, they may send you a declaration to complete to confirm you are compliant. The timescales to reply are short, so it’s a good idea to make sure you are on top of monitoring compliance.
  2. Check the SRA Guidance which gives 6 things you should specifically check – I won’t copy them here, but it’s all good advice – (it’s in the web sweep report mentioned above)
  3. Build into your new starter process collecting information needed for the website service information, so that the correct information is on there as soon as possible.
  4. Remind whoever is responsible for your website that they need to ensure the transparency information is prominent on the website, and if you are satisfied that it is currently, that they let you know if they are going to change it.
  5. If you start to undertake new relevant areas of work, or merge with another firm, ensure that your website is updated as soon as possible.

A last word about “prominent”

You won’t find this defined anywhere within the rules, but if you look back at the consultations for the rules, you will find the SRA reviewed some research about customer behaviour, where it was suggested that consumers are unlikely to click more than twice to find information, so that might be a good rule of thumb – less than 2 clicks away and in a place where the customer would expect to find it.

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