As part of a programme of change to the Conveyancing Quality Scheme, we will soon be rolling out two new assessments designed to help firms to further drive improvement in their residential conveyancing practice. Eleanor O’Reilly-Joe explains

In November 2018, after research with members and stakeholders, we announced the relaunch of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) to ensure we can continue to champion the role of solicitors and their position at the heart of conveyancing.

Embrace a desk-based assessment and/or onsite visit – they are designed to be supportive assessments

We introduced three core values which embody the outcomes we expect to be demonstrably achieved by each CQS-accredited firm, and in February published our new Core Practice Management Standards (CPMS), which took effect on 1 May 2019. As part of these changes, we also announced that we will be increasing the number of desk-based assessments (DBAs) undertaken, and introducing onsite visits for a small number of CQS firms each year. Through these new assessments, our intention is to use CQS as the vehicle to continue to drive improvements in standards and best practice across the sector, thereby maintaining the confidence of lenders and consumers in solicitors.

As the names suggest, the DBA is a paper-based evaluation, and the onsite visit will be conducted at the firm. Both are designed with our members’ interests and needs in mind, and will be supportive assessments providing feedback on a practice’s compliance with CQS standards and requirements.

The DBA will be carried out remotely. It will review key areas within a residential conveyancing transaction and focus on a practice’s compliance with the National Conveyancing Protocol, and with elements of the CPMS.

The onsite visit will be conducted by an independent assessor and, again, will review compliance with the protocol and the CPMS. The onsite visit will also include interviews with staff at various levels, to ensure policies and procedures are known and followed throughout the firm.

The assessments will be qualitative, and each firm undergoing assessment will be given feedback on areas for improvement, if any, along with areas of good practice identified. By providing qualitative reports, we hope to not only support CQS members in their continuous improvement, but also assure our members that they are continuing to meet CQS requirements.

These new assessments have been introduced alongside, and in addition to, the annual reaccreditation assessments. However, whereas the annual reaccreditation assessment focuses chiefly on probity and risk, the new DBA and onsite visit will predominately look at the quality of conveyancing undertaken at the firm. Essentially, this means that when a firm applies for accreditation or reaccreditation, the most important question is whether they meet the probity requirements. The new assessments, meanwhile, focus on helping an accredited firm improve its quality outcomes as a CQS member.

CQS members should also keep in mind that not all members will be selected for a DBA and/or onsite visit; we are introducing only a small number of DBAs and onsite visits each year. You may be selected for these assessments either reactively, for example following a serious complaint or intelligence about a CQS firm, or proactively through random selection based on representative samples of the CQS membership. Just because a firm has been selected for assessment does not automatically mean that there are concerns about the practice. We encourage you to view the assessments as both an opportunity for external validation on the areas in which you are performing well, and a supportive measure to help you focus on the areas which may need extra work.

We are absolutely committed to continuing to support our CQS members and help them to compete in a crowded market. As part of that commitment, we hope that you will embrace this additional support. We believe these changes to CQS will provide added value and quality without further cost to you through increased accreditation fees.

My three tips for CQS members in the coming months would be as follows.

  1. Ensure you are really embedding the new CPMS is a meaningful way – they are there to support you in thinking about the necessary policies and procedures you should have in place within residential conveyancing work.
  2. Embrace a DBA and/or onsite visit if you are selected for one – they are designed to be supportive assessments, not punitive. You and your firm will gain most by embracing the process and engaging well with the assessors.
  3. Give us your feedback. We always want to hear from members, with positive or constructive feedback. Your views help us shape the next iteration of the scheme, to ensure that the CQS really is working hard for you, its membership.