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The SRA are coming to town

While firms in England have come out of lockdown to the extent they are allowed to start trading, Welsh firms are still hunkering down waiting anxiously for the Welsh government to provide some indication of when they can start, and the Law Society has recognised the issues facing both by reducing their fees for CQS.

And the Solicitors Regulation Authority, what are they doing to help solicitors in their time of need?

It would be reasonable to assume that the regulator would consider the state of the economy and profession when deciding what it would do next to support those that they regulate.

But wait.

No not really. Instead, we are minded of the opening lyrics of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds…

“and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us…”

Why would we be minded of this? Well it has to do with the SRA’s latest business plan which can be viewed here;

https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/documents/sra/consultations/sra-business-plan-and-budget-2020-21.pdf?version=49c54a

If we rewind to last year, the SRA’s focus was mainly on their much vaunted new “Standards and Regulations 2019” and the associated Code(s) of Conduct and Accounts Rules. The SRA’s September press release said;

"The new Standards and Regulations are designed to make life easier for firms. We have removed unnecessary bureaucracy…”

While the above may have been correct for the SRA Regulations, it appears that the SRA intends to make life a lot harder for firms in other areas, as evidenced by three parts under one of its objectives in its draft business plan.

The first part under Objective One of their plan with the heading, “setting and maintaining high standards for the profession and ourselves” that ALL firms should be aware of  is their intent for Anti-Money Laundering (P12, points 29, 30 and 31) under the heading “Anti Money Laundering.”

There are firms who have already received SRA visits to audit their AML policies and procedures, and some have reported to us that the expectations of the auditor appear to be well over and above current requirements on AML. However, from the strategic plan’s stated intentions, more firms can now benefit from SRA AML audits as they say “they will expand our AML visits to visit all high-risk firms on a three-year rolling basis, along with visiting a sample of lower risk firms.”

One issue firms may discover is what the SRA consider to be “lower risk.” From feedback we have received, it appears that any law type that has any form of transaction where money changes hands is classed as high risk.” So unless firms provide family or criminal law only they are likely to be targeted for a visit.

The second point to note in the SRA’s plan, which again ALL firms should be aware of is contained under the heading “Our regulatory model, Standards and Regulations and Transparency Rules” (P12, point 32) where they say;

“We will work with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to review the effectiveness of the pricing and transparency requirements we set for firms, and of the clickable logo we brought in to help the public understand the consumer protections regulated firms provide. Our rolling programme of firm website reviews and enforcement will continue, and we will increase the resourcing of this work.”

We’re sure a lot of firms will firstly question that their clients understand the difference that the digital logo makes. As for pricing and transparency, the feedback we have received from solicitor firms is that clients rarely look at their website to obtain a price, but do things the “old fashioned way” and actually ring them. This is unlikely to stop the SRA from reviewing firm’s websites, and we anticipate that there will be more categories of law that require prices to be displayed on websites, such as family law, which escaped the requirement from the original consultation on the subject but is the next most likely target area.

The third objective, that Welsh based firms should be aware of is contained in the same objective under the heading in the business plan, “Developing our Work in Wales” (P14, points 42 and 43). They intend to do this by opening an office in Wales to service the massive 2.6% of solicitors and 4% of firms that they regulate in this country.

I’m sure that Welsh based firms will be delighted with the prospect of an SRA office based in Wales when, like their colleagues across the border they will be fully occupied with trying to rebuild their practices and client bases after the lockdown. But we’re sure at least that the SRA will provide their services and communication through the medium of Welsh, and those personnel assigned or recruited to that office will be fluent in the language.

In summary then, in these difficult times, at least firms have something to look forward to…

As ever, if anyone reading this article needs any help with any of the issues outlined in this article, then you can contact cpm21 using the details on our website;

https://cpm21.co.uk/Contact-CPM21

 

To see this article in Welsh, read on…

 

Mae'r SRA yn Dod i'r Dref

Er bod cwmnïau yn Lloegr wedi dod allan o gloi i'r graddau a ganiataodd iddynt ddechrau masnachu, mae cwmnïau o Gymru yn dal i chwilio am aros yn bryderus i lywodraeth Cymru roi rhyw arwydd o bryd y gallant ddechrau, ac mae Cymdeithas y Gyfraith wedi cydnabod bod

erlyn yn wynebu'r ddau trwy ostwng eu ffioedd am CQS.

A'r Awdurdod Rheoleiddio Cyfreithwyr, beth maen nhw'n ei wneud i helpu cyfreithwyr yn eu hamser angen?

Byddai'n rhesymol tybio y byddai'r rheoleiddiwr yn ystyried cyflwr yr economi a'r proffesiwn wrth benderfynu beth y byddai'n ei wneud nesaf i gefnogi'r rhai y maent yn eu rheoleiddio.

Ond aros.

Na ddim mewn gwirionedd. Yn lle, rydym yn meddwl am delynegion agoriadol War of the Worlds gan Jeff Wayne…

“Ac yn araf, ac yn sicr, fe wnaethant dynnu eu cynlluniau yn ein herbyn…”

 Pam y byddem yn meddwl am hyn? Wel mae'n rhaid iddo ymwneud â chynllun busnes diweddaraf yr SRA y gellir ei weld yma;

https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/documents/sra/consultations/sra-business-plan-and-budget-2020-21.pdf?version=49c54a

Os byddwn yn ailddirwyn i’r llynedd, roedd ffocws yr SRA yn bennaf ar eu “Safonau a Rheoliadau 2019” newydd, sydd wedi eu henwi’n fawr, a’r Cod (au) Rheolau Ymddygiad a Chyfrifon cysylltiedig. Dywedodd datganiad i’r wasg SRA’s Medi;

"Mae'r Safonau a'r Rheoliadau newydd wedi'u cynllunio i wneud bywyd yn haws i gwmnïau. Rydym wedi dileu biwrocratiaeth ddiangen ..."

Er y gallai'r uchod fod yn gywir ar gyfer rheoliadau'r SRA, mae'n ymddangos bod yr SRA yn bwriadu gwneud bywyd yn llawer anoddach i gwmnïau mewn meysydd eraill, fel y gwelir mewn tair rhan o dan un o'i amcanion yn ei gynllun busnes drafft.

Y rhan gyntaf o dan Amcan Un o'u cynllun gyda'r pennawd, “gosod a chynnal safonau uchel ar gyfer y proffesiwn a ninnau” y dylai POB cwmni fod yn ymwybodol ohonynt yw eu bwriad ar gyfer Gwrth-Gwyngalchu Arian (P12, pwyntiau 29, 30 a 31) o dan y pennawd “Gwrth-Gwyngalchu Arian.”

Mae yna gwmnïau sydd eisoes wedi derbyn ymweliadau SRA i archwilio eu polisïau a'u gweithdrefnau AML, ac mae rhai wedi adrodd wrthym ei bod yn ymddangos bod disgwyliadau'r archwilydd ymhell y tu hwnt i'r gofynion cyfredol ar AML. Fodd bynnag, o fwriadau datganedig y cynllun strategol, gall mwy o gwmnïau nawr elwa o archwiliadau SRA AML wrth iddynt ddweud “byddant yn ehangu ein hymweliadau AML i ymweld â phob cwmni risg uchel ar sail dreigl tair blynedd, ynghyd ag ymweld â sampl o rai is cwmnïau risg.”

Un mater y gall cwmnïau ei ddarganfod yw'r hyn y mae'r SRA yn ei ystyried yn “risg is.” O'r adborth a gawsom, mae'n ymddangos bod unrhyw fath o gyfraith sydd ag unrhyw fath o drafodiad lle mae arian yn newid dwylo yn cael ei ystyried yn risg uchel. " Felly oni bai bod cwmnïau'n darparu cyfraith teulu neu droseddol yn unig maent yn debygol o gael eu targedu ar gyfer ymweliad.

Mae'r ail bwynt i'w nodi yng nghynllun yr SRA, y dylai POB cwmni fod yn ymwybodol ohono eto wedi'i gynnwys o dan y pennawd “Ein model rheoleiddio, Safonau a Rheoliadau a Rheolau Tryloywder” (P12, pwynt 32) lle maen nhw'n dweud;

“Byddwn yn gweithio gyda’r Awdurdod Cystadleuaeth a Marchnadoedd (CMA) i adolygu effeithiolrwydd y gofynion prisio a thryloywder a osodwyd gennym ar gyfer cwmnïau, a’r logo y gellir ei glicio a gyflwynwyd gennym i helpu’r cyhoedd i ddeall yr amddiffyniadau defnyddwyr y mae cwmnïau rheoledig yn eu darparu. Bydd ein rhaglen dreigl o adolygiadau a gorfodi gwefannau cadarn yn parhau, a byddwn yn cynyddu adnoddau'r gwaith hwn. "

Rydym yn si?r y bydd llawer o gwmnïau yn cwestiynu yn gyntaf bod eu cleientiaid yn deall y gwahaniaeth y mae'r logo digidol yn ei wneud. O ran prisio a thryloywder, yr adborth a gawsom gan gwmnïau cyfreithwyr yw mai anaml y mae cleientiaid yn edrych ar eu gwefan i gael pris, ond yn gwneud pethau yn y “ffordd hen ffasiwn” ac yn eu ffonio mewn gwirionedd. Mae hyn yn annhebygol o atal yr SRA rhag adolygu gwefannau cwmnïau, ac rydym yn rhagweld y bydd mwy o gategorïau o gyfraith sy'n ei gwneud yn ofynnol i brisiau gael eu harddangos ar wefannau, fel cyfraith teulu, a ddihangodd o'r gofyniad o'r ymgynghoriad gwreiddiol ar y pwnc ond sy'n yr ardal darged fwyaf tebygol nesaf.

Mae'r trydydd amcan, y dylai cwmnïau o Gymru fod yn ymwybodol ohono wedi'i gynnwys yn yr un amcan o dan y pennawd yn y cynllun busnes, “Datblygu ein Gwaith yng Nghymru” (P14, pwyntiau 42 a 43). Maent yn bwriadu gwneud hyn trwy agor swyddfa yng Nghymru i wasanaethu'r 2.6% enfawr o gyfreithwyr a 4% o gwmnïau y maent yn eu rheoleiddio yn y wlad honno.

Rwy'n si?r y bydd cwmnïau o Gymru wrth eu bodd â'r gobaith o gael swyddfa SRA yng Nghymru pan fyddant, fel eu cydweithwyr dros y ffin, yn cael eu meddiannu'n llawn wrth geisio ailadeiladu eu harferion a'u canolfannau cleientiaid ar ôl y broses gloi. Ond rydym yn si?r o leiaf y bydd yr SRA yn darparu eu gwasanaethau a'u cyfathrebu trwy gyfrwng Cymraeg, a bydd y personél hwnnw a neilltuwyd neu a recriwtiwyd i'r swyddfa honno yn rhugl yn yr iaith.

I grynhoi felly, yn yr amseroedd anodd hyn, o leiaf mae gan gwmnïau rywbeth i edrych ymlaen ato…

Fel erioed, os oes angen unrhyw help ar unrhyw un sy'n darllen yr erthygl hon gydag unrhyw un o'r materion a amlinellir yn yr erthygl hon, yna gallwch gysylltu â cpm21 gan ddefnyddio'r manylion ar ein gwefan;

https://cpm21.co.uk/Contact-CPM21