Unregulated Legal Advice – Why is it so Risky?


Worryingly, we're seeing more people being held to account for providing unregulated immigration advice. Do you know just how risky it can be to choose an unregulated immigration adviser? Our Head of Immigration, Emma Brooksbank, looks at why having an unregulated adviser can have disastrous consequences, and gives you tips on staying safe.

Unregulated Legal Advice – Why is it so Risky?

What is the Law on Regulated Immigration Advice?

Services that must be regulated are called reserved legal activities, and require a legal qualification. These include:

  • Legal representation
  • Certain probate activities
  • Notarial activities and the administration of oaths
  • The preparation of litigation

Immigration services aren't reserved legal activities, which means the service can be provided by companies. However, the law holds that it is a criminal offence to provide immigration advice unless you are a regulated solicitor, barrister, legal executive or regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).

In the UK, the OISC regulates immigration advisers and it's the law that immigration advisers must be registered with the OISC or a different approved body, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Our immigration solicitors at Simpson Millar LLP are registered with the SRA, which means you can be sure that all our advisers are regulated.

If you did seek legal advice and found that your adviser was unregulated, the OISC can handle your complaint regardless of whether your adviser was regulated or not. The OISC has a criminal law function against people providing unregulated immigration advice.

Recently a man from Birmingham, Rais Nawaz Malik, pleaded guilty for providing unregulated immigration law advice since May 2013. He now faces 24 weeks of community service, curfews, an electronic tag and a fine of £4,400 to pay in compensation. This also comes after the news last month that a man has been imprisoned for 15 months after fraudulently claiming he was a solicitor and providing immigration advice.

What about Other Legal Areas?

This isn't just the case for immigration advice, unregulated advisors can be found to be providing legal services in other non-reserved areas. For example, many people choose unregulated Will writers after mistakenly thinking they are trained legal professionals. This isn't always the case and can have truly devastating consequences if the Will or any Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) hasn't been done properly.

Market analysis by the Law Society in 2012 even found that the majority of legal service providers are non-solicitors and non-barristers, and that the numbers of unregulated individuals are very high. It is made up of 267,000 to 320,000 regulated and unregulated individuals, and solicitors only comprise of up to 46% of these individuals.

Why is Choosing an Unregulated Adviser Risky?

If you have experienced problems with a regulated legal service provider, you can often seek redress through the adviser's regulatory body, and the Legal Ombudsman will look into your complaint. Regulated advisers must inform you of the ombudsman's services.

In comparison, if you have sought advice from an unregulated adviser and something goes wrong, you may have difficulties in seeking redress. You can seek help from the OISC with regards to unregulated immigration advice, but other areas can be limited. The Legal Ombudsman only looks into complaints against regulated advisers, which means forms of redress if you've used an unregulated adviser are often limited to common law.

It's also a necessity for solicitors to be covered by indemnity insurance to safeguard against occasions when a mistake is made. Unregulated legal advisers don't need to have this, which means that if things go wrong, you are vulnerable and risk being left out of pocket.

How Can I Be Sure That my Legal Adviser is Regulated?

So far there have been calls for greater regulation of legal services, with the Law Society campaigning to see Will writing made a reserved legal activity in the hope that it will afford greater protection. Until then, you can check that your solicitor is regulated by using the 'Find a Solicitor' search tool on the Law Society's website.

By choosing Simpson Millar LLP, you can be sure that your legal adviser is regulated by the SRA, and that you'll receive an efficient, professional service from an experienced solicitor.

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