Off-the-shelf legal services from the supermarkets are in the reform pipeline, but it’s a long one reports Liz Hamson

If the The Grocer’s latest consumer panel is anything to go by, he could well find it tricky to steer the debate away from “Tesco law”. Most say they have reservations, but some think the idea has merit.

This week, the government moved a step closer to giving the green light to “Tesco law”, allowing supermarkets to offer legal services such as will drafting and accident compensation claims alongside the fruit and vegetables. But it also signalled that it is still far from a certainty.

In marked contrast to comments made by Lord Chancellor, when he coined the phrase as he announced a regulatory review of legal services in July, David Clementi, the chairman of Prudential and man in charge of the review, has put Tesco law bottom in his list of priorities in a briefing on the areas the review will cover.

In July, Lord Falconer implied that “Tesco law” would be high up the agenda because it was “probably something of interest to the consumer” and constituted one of the “different ways of providing services” that the government should be looking at. However, Clementi, who is a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, said his first priority would be to look at “institutional structures and the regulatory maze”.

The shift in emphasis is a set-back for supermarkets keen to add legal services to their repertoire soon. Despite protestations from the likes of Tesco that “we have no immediate plans to launch legal services”, behind closed doors most multiples admit they are investigating the possibility of offering what many see as a natural step from insurance services. Clementi, however, is not saying no to the idea, just first things first. Meanwhile, he is urging “buyers of legal services” - ie consumers - to take part in the consultation process, due to begin early next year. A final report is due next December.

The Grocer’s consumer panel, questioned by research and design consultancy ID Magasin, is divided over whether supermarkets should be allowed to give shelf space to legal services.

More than half say that supermarkets should. However, almost all urge a degree of caution, arguing such services should be “very user friendly and simple” and “meet strict criteria”.

Many of the 31% who oppose the idea (see right) express strong feelings on the issue. “They shouldn’t be allowed - there’s huge potential for something like that to go horribly wrong,” says one. “It isn’t appropriate,” adds another. “If I’m buying food I don’t want to see a solicitor!”

Although most approve of supermarkets offering such services, 61% are unlikely to use them.

One critic of the idea says: “Supermarkets should stick to being grocers”, another adds that “they wouldn’t offer specialist enough advice”.

Asked if they were aware that supermarkets offered financial services, 85% of those questioned were, but only 38% have used the services - most signing up for store credit cards, or buying household, car or travel insurance.

ID Magasin chairman Siemon Scamell-Katz, said: “It is probably a good step for a reputable retail brand to extend into legal services as they will enjoy a halo effect of trust from their core activities.”
What the consumers think