Nationwide Building Society plans to slash by 200 the number of solicitors on its Scottish conveyancing panel have been slammed by the Law Society of Scotland.
The representative body has demanded talks with the building society after it announced it would be reducing the panel from 700 to 500 following a UK-wide review.
Concerns have been expressed that consumers in remote areas of Scotland such as the Highlands will not have access to a solicitor.
Ross MacKay, convener of the Law Society’s property law committee, said: “We remain extremely concerned about the long-term impact of the review.
“It’s yet another panel reduction exercise by a major lender which is likely to have a detrimental effect on solicitors and on members of the public who may not be able to go to their solicitor of choice to carry out conveyancing work.”
Nationwide claims that affected firms accounted for less than one per cent of its new business north of the border during the past year.
The review is in addition to an ongoing dormancy exercise, under which Nationwide has been removing firms that have not carried out any new conveyancing work for it within the past 12 months.
The review wants to introduce a minimum volume threshold where firms are suspended form the panel if they have advised on fewer than four transactions in a year. There will be grounds for appeal.
Firms that do remain on the panel must now upload extensive data about their solicitors.
MacKay added: “Over 20 per cent of existing panel firms will be removed through this complex process including those which will have provided an exemplary service for their clients, including lenders.
“While we have been assured by Nationwide that it has taken steps to ensure there’s no loss of services within any geographic area, it would appear that these new measures take little account of the Scottish jurisdiction, are disproportionate to the actual risk of mortgage fraud, could threaten the continuing viability of some firms and will inevitably inconvenience its own customers.
“We’re calling for a meeting with Nationwide to discuss their proposals in more detail in light of Scottish practice.”
Nationwide spokesperson Jackie Lawrence said that from the building society’s point of view it makes sense to cut the firms affected because of the low volume of work they do.
“We understand the Law Society’s concern is a restriction on consumer choice, but those solicitors affected made up just 0.3 per cent of all our conveyancing and completion last month – it’s a very small amount,” she said.
“Good geographical access to solicitors is an important part of this review and we’re being very active around that.
“Where any firm is suspended they can appeal to prove they’re still active and we’ll review each one on a case-by-case basis. This is about bringing our panel up-to-date so it’s not too unwieldy.”
Around 18 months ago (22 October 2010) Nationwide cut the number of firms on its commercial lending panel from 60 to 17 following a three-month review of its legal advisers.
As reported by The Lawyer last month, HSBC carried out a similar cull of its conveyancing panel at the beginning of the year, sparking an e-petition from the Law Society of England and Wales (12 March 2012).