MPs are concerned that their constituents do not know if they are getting the right deal when purchasing legal services, according to new research from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SRA commissioned a survey to find the views of MPs on the regulation of legal services and how they think their constituents engage with them. The survey also looked at how MPs felt about the quality and diversity of the services available to the public.
The results showed that MPs were largely concerned about their constituents' lack of knowledge and understanding of legal services. This in turn would impair their ability to choose the most appropriate legal services product they need.
Eighty six per cent of those questioned were concerned that their constituents did not have sufficient knowledge about whether or not the services they were buying were of good quality. And 85 per cent thought their constituents would not know if the services they were using were appropriate. Only 28 per cent thought that it should be at the customer's own risk if services purchased were of poor quality or irrelevant to their needs.
The survey also showed there was confusion over which legal services were regulated and which were not. Only reserved legal activities are regulated, which affords consumers greater protection should things go wrong. Eighty three per cent of MPs said they were concerned there was a lack of understanding of the regulation of legal services from their constituents' point of view. And 72 per cent said simplifying regulation of legal services should be a key priority for regulatory reform.
Nearly 70 per cent of MPs said they were concerned that there is currently insufficient quality assurance of legal services for consumers. Seventy three per cent agreed they were concerned that there is insufficient redress for consumers.
The study was carried out by ComRes in January and February of this year with 156 members and reflected the composition of the House of Commons along party lines.
Antony Townsend, Chief Executive of the SRA, said: "Consumer protection is at the heart of everything we do. That's not just about being open and transparent about any sanctions placed on solicitors, it also involves promoting access to justice and helping consumers make informed choices.
"The feedback from MPs will be invaluable as it guides the work we do to try to remove the barriers the public perceive when they enter the legal services market. This includes seeing how easy it is to understand what services are on offer and if there's sufficient quality and choice available across England & Wales.
"We are continually developing the consumer section of our website, which gives the public advice on choosing a solicitor, allows them to check a solicitor's record and tells them what help they can, and can't, expect from us as the regulator."
The survey backs up similar findings revealed in research the SRA has already carried out. The reports by GfK NOP Social Research and Vision One Research published in spring 2011 said that while most people had a high level of trust in the legal profession and the people working in it, many were unaware about how to complain if something went wrong.
Read the full survey
See previous consumer research surveys