SIF contributions to rocket under shortfall pay-off plan

Payments to the Solicitors' Indemnity Fund (SIF) will rise by a massive 30 per cent for the next seven years under a proposal to pay off its £450m shortfall.

The Law Society's standards and guidance committee approved the hike earlier this month and the full council is due to vote on 5 March.

The rise is in addition to a 50 per cent increase that the Law Society introduced last year.

But deputy vice-president Robert Sayer wants a fresh evaluation of the size of the shortfall. “I don't have confidence in SIF's figures. Firms could be paying money which is totally unnecessary.”

Tillinghast, the firm of actuaries SIF used to check its calculations last year, is being sued in Canada by the Lawyers' Professional Indemnity Company which accuses it of underestimating its deficit by $93m.

Sayer claimed that because of this, the firm could have been playing safe and overestimating the deficit in the UK.

Elizabeth Mullins, managing director of SIF, disagreed: “I am perfectly content that we have the best estimates possible for the size of the shortfall.”

She would not confirm that Tillinghast were being used to calculate this year's estimates.

Paul Clements, partner at Radcliffes Crossman Block, a member of the anti-SIF “November Group” said there had been little consultation and Law Society was “firing too quickly”.

“We need time to consider how the shortfall could be made up on the open market.”

The November Group is awaiting the results of a study it commissioned from insurance brokers Nelson Hurst & Marsh.

Alison Crawley, secretary to the standards and guidance committee, agreed there had been no consultation. “There were no real choices to be made. The money has to be collected.

“In consultation, firms just put forward suggestions in their own financial interest. We needed to look at the bigger picture and provide some leadership.”

She said that by spreading the contributions over seven years, any change in the shortfall estimate could be taken into account.

A paper will be published this Wednesday (25 February) on adopting a system of risk banding for contributions.