Do you feel your solicitor is being too nosey? Tilly Bailey & Irvine Law Firm Partner John Ellwood offers enlightenment on the question…

“Solicitors are inherently nosey. They are always poking into people’s businesses for no good reason”.

Whilst that may well be true, it actually is not the reason that – particularly in conveyancingtransactions – solicitors ask a lot of questions of their clients.

TBI acts for a lot of clients in conveyancing matters where they never come into the office at all. This has been due to a move towards an electronically-focused service that makes the process faster and remote, and ultimately more convenient all round.

The real answer to the barrage of questions? Money Laundering Regulations.

From what I gather, the government believe that criminals will try to hide their ill-gotten gains by buying houses.

Many people will have heard of the process called laundering money. Illegal money is often called ‘dirty money’ and the expression explains how you wash the dirty money by buying a house and thereby creating clean money when you sell the house.

Because most conveyancing transactions take place through solicitors, the government decided that they would place an unusual requirement on solicitors and they decided to enforce that requirement by making solicitors guilty of crimes if they launder money either deliberately or recklessly.

In fact, solicitors have been sent to prison for just this.

The first thing that a solicitor has to do is check that the person instructing him is who they say they are. Obviously a criminal laundering money would want to do it in somebody else’s name. Bearing in mind that more and more people want to instruct solicitors remotely through electronic means this is not quite as easy as it seems.

TBI acts for a lot of clients in conveyancing matters where they never come into the office at all because it is more convenient. I devised a way of checking that they are who they say, and I am lucky in the fact that TBI implement electronic systems to make the process rather painless for clients.

If your solicitor still requires you to bring in your ID for them to certify, please do so – the solicitor is only doing their job. TBI however is unlikely to require this, particularly in conveyancing transactions.

Having satisfied themselves that you are who you say you are, your solicitor must satisfy themselves that there is nothing suspicious in where the money is coming from. If the solicitor has suspicions that something is not right, then likely they will ask more questions.

Suspicions & consequences

For example: If you say your money is out of savings and you are working, but you earn £20,000 a year and live in London, then the solicitor will want to know how you managed to save this money up. Nobody should think that a solicitor is alleging that a client is dishonest; they are merely satisfying themselves as a result of the obligation put upon them by government.

Usually if you do not give satisfaction answers or if you refuse to give answers at all, all your solicitor needs to do is to refuse to act for you.

There is a more extreme example. If you put your solicitor in an impossible position such that they have to go ahead with the transaction and they are still suspicious about you then the solicitor must report you to the police. If your solicitor does not report you to the police then the solicitor commits a crime.

If, having reported you to the police, the solicitor goes and tells you that they have done it, then they commit a crime.

Innocent people should be patient with their solicitors and know why their solicitor is being nosey. It would even be a good idea to plan ahead if you are thinking about buying a house and work out how you are going to explain who you are and where the money came from.

The moral of the story? Criminals should not go to good solicitors to launder their money… because they will get caught out!

Tilly Bailey & Irvine Law Firm is the largest full-service firm of solicitors in Teesside, assisting clients in all legal matters including offering a modern, remote conveyancing service. Call us today on 0333 444 4422.