Posted: Monday 21 May 2012
By John Lunn
It was reported last week in the Law Society’s Gazette (for England and Wales) that a further 1,419 law firms with the Law Society of England and Wales’ (“LSEW”) Conveyancing Quality Scheme (“CQS”) mark had been added en bloc by the HSBC to their conveyancing panel, allowing those firms to work for HSBC mortgage clients and the bank on the same mortgage transaction. This followed on a reported four-month campaign by the LSEW against the bank’s announcement of a panel of just 39 solicitor firms and four licensed conveyancing companies across the UK. I understand that only 4 of those 39 solicitor firms are in Scotland.
The Bank’s reasons for cutting its panel to the bone have been widely discussed (see, for example, my previous blog of 17 February 2012). The counter arguments are also widely known, but centre around lack of customer choice and delays in the conveyancing process for clients with HSBC mortgages.
This has now been partially addressed in England and Wales by the automatic addition of the CQS firms to the panel, and a reported 401 firms currently going through the accreditation process.
“But what about Scotland?”, I hear you say. Well at the moment there is no equivalent of the CQS scheme north of the border, and there is unlikely to be one in the future. An informal discussion with the Law Society of Scotland (“LSS”) indicates that they have an open mind on this issue. However, the prevailing view is the additional costs and bureaucracy involved would not be welcomed by the majority of practitioners, especially when such accreditation would not guarantee membership of all lenders’ panels. Further, the Rules and Guidance which apply to all solicitors in Scotland are considered to be sufficiently onerous.
This view may well change in the future should lenders continue to review the overall numbers of Scottish law firms on their panels, or if the groundswell of opinion moves towards compulsory separate representation for lenders and their mortgage customers (see my blog of 2 March 2012). “Separate representation” is on the agenda for the LSS AGM on 31 May 2012, though I am sceptical about the extent to which delegates will be able to have any sort of meaningful discussion on the day.