The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) has become the first non-legal regulatory body to authorise a sole practitioner for non-contentious probate work in the UK.
Dorset-based Hope Shaw has been given the all-clear to expand its small business and individual accounting provision to provide probate services to its clients.
Despite being a non-legal body, the ICAEW gained the power to regulate probate services and license Alternative Business Structures (ABS) in the UK late last year, when the Legal Services Board (LSB) approved its application to become a regulator of non-contentious probate services in December.
The LSB also approved the ICAEW’s request to become a licensing authority for ABS, under the 2007 Legal Services Act (LSA).
The move echoes the acceleration towards legal services provision witnessed across the professional services industry.
Accountancy firm Kingston Smith became the first to receive an ABS by the ICAEW at the beginning of October, following a similar move by two of the Big Four this year.
PwC obtained an ABS sanctioning the establishment of PwC Legal as a standalone legal firm in January, while KPMG secured an ABS license allowing the firm to operate as a multi-disciplinary practice earlier this month.
Speaking to The Accountant as part of the upcoming UK survey, ICAEW chief executive Michael Izza said the move will benefit customers first and foremost.
"It would give them more choice. Accountants often did this work anyway and then gave the final piece to lawyers to sign off. Now they can do the whole thing, so that makes more sense".
Izza added this meets the desire that clients have got for firms to be multidisciplinary.
In order to practice, candidates must complete a course testing their understanding of the law in the area and then submit an application as a firm. The application is assessed by a probate committee.
"So there is a training period, an application period and a continuing examination period," Izza said, "we don’t think this is going to be for everybody, but we do expect that several hundred firms would apply."
Izza also said the ICAEW intends to look at further applications for a number of currently reserved legal areas, such as oaths, deeds, notarial services, litigation or rights of audience.
"It would be to perform these services in an accounting context. For example, if we were to apply for litigation, we might say that should be restricted to tax. It’s just recognition of areas where have strength," he explained.