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CCPC disappointed at conveyancing report recommendations

The competition watchdog has said it is disappointed that a long-awaited report examining the possibility of introducing a new profession of conveyancer makes no recommendation or timetable for that to happen.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has called on the Government to set a clear timeline for the creation of the new profession focused solely on the transfer of ownership of property.

It follows the publication by the legal services regulator of a report by it which makes recommendations for reforms to enhance competition and increase efficiencies and transparency in the delivery of conveyancing services currently carried out by solicitors.

However, the analysis by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) stops short of recommending that a new profession of conveyancer be introduced.

The report, which was requested by the Minister for Justice, concludes that the creation of a such a new profession would only be viable as part of a wide range of other more significant and urgent reforms.

These would include the digitalisation of the conveyancing system and the greater use of technology.

They would also involve the introduction of enhanced transparency requirements for solicitors on the costs of conveyancing services and an increase in awareness among consumers to enable them to make informed decisions when seeking conveyancing services from solicitors.

“The barriers, risks and regulatory costs associated with the establishment of a new profession of conveyancer in Ireland are too significant to justify its creation in the absence of these wider reforms,” the report states.

“Priority should be given to the introduction of a range of significant reform measures to alleviate the barriers and risks identified in the Indecon report and to introduce more transparency and efficiencies into the conveyancing process for the benefit of consumers.”

The report adds that if such measures were successfully implemented, it could create conditions in which the creation of a new profession of conveyancer could be reconsidered for recommendation at an appropriate future date.

“The comprehensive evidence gathered by the LSRA clearly shows that conveyancing in Ireland is very much a paper-based system in a digital age, and there is not enough transparency in the market to enable consumers to make informed decisions,” said LSRA’s Chief Executive Dr Brian Doherty.

“Our recommended reforms are aimed at bringing about an easier, more efficient and more transparent conveyancing process, whilst also protecting and empowering consumers and promoting enhanced competition.”

However, reacting to the report, the CCPC said its position remains that currently solicitors have a monopoly on conveyancing services.

It said the introduction of a new conveyancing profession would drive competition and bring benefits to consumers, including faster service and lower fees.

The competition regulator said it welcome the proposed reforms in the report, but its view is that the reforms will only truly be effective in a competitive environment where new and innovative business models can drive improvements for consumers.

As a result, it has called on the Government to end the current monopoly by setting a timetable for the introduction of the new profession.

“Without action by Government now, Irish consumers may be waiting decades before they see the end of this monopoly on conveyancing,” said CCPC Chairperson, Brian McHugh.

“Competition would drive a quicker, cheaper service for consumers, making it easier to buy houses or switch mortgages. We need a clear timetable for reform.”

Mr McHugh added that in countries like New Zealand where there is a dedicated conveyancing profession, fees are lower and service is faster.

The Competition Authority, which pre-dates the CCPC, first proposed the creation of a conveyancing profession in 2006.

As part of its research, the LSRA commissioned a report completed by economic consultants Indecon looking at the conveyancing market.

Among its findings were that Ireland has a well-developed conveyancing market served by a large number of solicitor practices and there are high levels of overall satisfaction with conveyancing services among consumers.

It also found that there is a range of prices for conveyancing services available in the Irish market, with most provided on a fixed-fee basis.

But it also concluded that there is a lack of transparency in the market and evidence of consumer inertia in the choice of conveyancing service providers.

It found a trained conveyancer could conduct routine conveyancing but would have a lower level of legal expertise than is needed to qualify as a solicitor.

The establishment of a new profession of conveyancer would increase competition for the provision of conveyancing services, it also said.

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