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The differences between a Regulated Solicitor and an unregulated provider

When filing for divorce, it can be difficult to fully understand the many different facets and factors involved with the process.

Many people may be unaware of the differences between a regulated solicitor and a unregulated provider service, but there are several and knowing them can have a significant impact on the speed and efficiency of your divorce process.

What do unregulated providers offer?

Divorce services through unregulated providers are primarily online-based. As of 2016, there are an estimated five active providers, according to a report by Economic Insight, and these providers serve approximately 23,000 to 30,000 every year. The prices for their services range from £36 on average for ‘DIY’ packages, and £173 for managed services.

The services they offer are:

  • DIY divorce packages
    This is where the provider delivers the documents to the client, who then fills out the forms themselves.
  • Assisted divorce packages
    The provider fills out the forms on the clients’ behalf and sends them to the clients. The clients then file the documents with the court.
  • Managed divorce packages
    This process has almost zero client involvement. The online provider fills out documentation and delivers them to the courts.

How are unregulated providers different to solicitors?


Unregulated providers are not qualified solicitors, although some online provider’s staff are all members of the Institute of Paralegals.
One provider belongs to the Trading Standards Trusted Trading Scheme, one is IS09001 Quality Assured by the International Organisation for Standardisation. Two, however, state that they comply with the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) code of conduct – this could be a misleading claim, as the SRA does not authorise or regulate these providers.
This means they are exempt from any supervision by the SRA, which is designed to ensure compliance with all standards.


Solicitors have legally defined qualifications that are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and as such they are under supervision by a regulatory body, something which unregulated providers do not benefit from.
Solicitors must hold a qualifying law degree and then study the Legal Practice Course before enrolling – those who do not hold a qualifying degree need to have completed a conversion course before enrolling on the Legal Practice Course.


Unregulated providers often charge a fixed fee. The prices for their range from £36 on average for ‘DIY’ packages, and £173 for managed services.

Consumer Protection

In terms of consumer protection, the number of unregulated providers that are members of voluntary protection schemes is low, although some firms are members of Trading Standards Trusted Trading Scheme, as well as obtaining quality assurance from the International Organisation for Standardisation.
However, only half of the unregulated providers that were spoken to by Economic Insight had indemnity insurance.


The service provided is almost entirely based online – there is no face to face communication, unlike using a qualified, dedicated solicitor.

What are the risks of using unregulated providers?

The use of unregulated providers presents several risks that you need to be aware of. These risks include:

  • Consumer protection
    The regulatory status of your divorce service provider affects your consumer protection, so obviously using an unregulated provider can be somewhat damaging to your consumer protection rights if an issue were to occur. Regulated providers offer things like indemnity insurance, compensation and alternative dispute resolution schemes – unregulated providers may not provide these.
  • Lack of transparency
    The report by Economic Insight states that they have “found evidence to suggest providers are not always transparent enough for clients to fully understand what services they are buying”. This can lead to people paying for services they do not need.

Why should I choose a regulated solicitor over an unregulated provider?

A dedicated solicitor

When you opt for a regulated solicitor, one of the most prominent benefits is a dedicated, in-house solicitor who works for the firm that you have contacted.
Unregulated providers often outsource their work or provide a solicitor-managed divorce package, which is not as comprehensive as working face to face with a dedicated solicitor.

Fully regulated and qualified

The solicitors at regulated firms are fully qualified and experienced, something which unregulated firms cannot always boast of. For unregulated providers, the providers will usually have law degrees, and one firm is a member of the Institute of Paralegals, but these qualifications vary across all providers.

Guaranteed consumer protection

As mentioned above, you may not get access to all consumer protection rights if you use an unregulated provider, owing to the differences in the accreditations between providers.

Personal, face to face approach

The online-only format of unregulated providers means that you don’t get the benefit of face to face time with a qualified solicitor, something which can be invaluable when it comes to dealing with complex cases.
For cases dealing with children and financial issues, a qualified solicitor will provide those services in-house, rather than referring you to somebody else, which is often the case for unregulated providers.

Full transparency and explanation

A common issue that has been reported from users of unregulated providers is that there is often a lack of transparency regarding their services. This can be particularly hazardous during divorce cases as users do not fully understand what they are paying for, which can cause complications further down the line.
With a regulated solicitor, you will have every aspect of the process explained to you and your dedicated solicitor will be there to assist you when required.

How can I tell the regulatory status of the provider?

It is common for people to not check the regulatory status of their provider before using their services, which leads to many people using unregulated providers, which leaves them open to the aforementioned risks.
You can check the regulatory status of any law firm by visiting the SRA site and using their Law Firm Search page.

Goodwins Family Law Solicitors are experts in all aspects of family law. Operating from our base in Harrow-on-the-Hill, we offer our services for domestic and international divorce cases, child custody cases and financial matters alike.

We are fully regulated and our team are experienced and highly qualified, so you can be sure that you are in the safest hands when you come to us. Contact out team for more information about how we can help you.

*The information in this article is correct as of December 2016.