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Wild urges Legal Services Board to axe area test on charging charities

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The Director of Governance and Law at Kent County Council, Geoff Wild, has urged the Legal Services Board to scrap an area test that the Solicitors Regulation Authority has recommended be placed on local government solicitors’ forthcoming ability to charge charities.

The SRA Board last month approved – as part of its red tape initiative – the relevant change to the Practice Framework Rules.

However, its proposed rule would see local government solicitors' new ability to charge limited to charities whose objects relate wholly or partly to their employer council’s area.

Following the SRA board meeting, the changes to the Handbook were sent to the Legal Services Board for consideration.

In a letter to the LSB sent this week, Wild said he “warmly welcomed” the red tape initiative.

But he added he said the SRA had ended up producing “a flawed document that significantly restricts the ability of local government solicitors to offer legal services to charities”.  

Calling on the super-regulator to correct this “error”, he wrote: “The SRA makes no mention of removing the requirement that the charity being supplied with legal services should be one which operates in 'the employer's area'.

“This results, for example, in the illogical and perverse situation where I could legitimately act for a charity in Kent but not for one in Surrey.”

Wild claimed it was incorrect for the SRA to say that the 'employer's area' test was not the subject of consultation, and therefore the question should be deferred.

He argued: “The object of the consultation was to decide whether in-house solicitors employed by local authorities should be allowed to charge charities for legal services. That object is now accepted in principle.”

Wild added that this was only properly served by allowing local authorities to offer these services wherever in England and Wales the opportunity arose.

On the SRA’s argument that removing the 'employer's area' test allowed legal services to be provided on effectively a commercial basis and that charities might suffer because they would lack the public protections attached to entity regulation, Kent’s legal chief said: “With all respect to the SRA, this is a fig leaf justification for not recommending the changes sought.”

He told the LSB: “That point has nothing whatever to do with the employer's area and everything to do with whether local authority legal departments can serve charities. Once that decision has been made – which it now has, subject to your approval of this aspect of the Handbook – the geographical location of those charities is beside the point and should be disregarded as irrelevant.”

Wild said the proposed restriction would act as “a real brake” on growth to local authority legal departments like the one at Kent.

“Delay really is unnecessary and it is open to the Legal Services Board to circumvent this,” he added.