SRA and Legal Ombudsman Warn that legal services are not being transparent enough with complaints procedures

The word ‘transparent’ is quickly becoming common place in the conveyancing sector. Well, it has been used again with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) and Legal Ombudsman’s (LeO) claims that legal service companies are not doing enough to signpost complaints procedures for customers.

The LeO Refreshed and updated their guidance that was published in May, stating: “There is a requirement under section 112 of the Legal Services Act for all authorised persons to signpost customers to LeO. Section 3.2 of our Scheme Rules sets out the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) requirements that you inform your customers how to complain at the time of engagement and in writing at the end of the complaints process.”

The research suggests that this is something not being followed correctly by many legal service companies. Only 34% of solicitor firms provide information about LeO in writing at the end of the complaints procedure.

Additionally, only 4% of consumers recall receiving any information about the LeO at the end of the complaints process.

The LeO have therefore issued new help and guidance to ensure that procedures are followed correctly; this includes a range of templates that can be used for websites, engagement letters and letter for the complaints process.

To ensure that firms are complying with transparent complaints procedures, the August updates have reiterated:

  • Firms should inform clients from the outset of their right to complain, giving full details, usually in the Terms of Business/or the client care letter.
  • Inform clients at the time of a ‘complaint’ of your complaints procedure, providing full details of LeO, how they can help and the time limits of complaints.
  • Inform clients once the first-tier complaints procedure has been exhausted. Furthermore, customers should be aware of their right to complain to LeO with timescales, contact details for LeO and signpost to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) entity with details of whether the firm agrees to ADR.

Despite LeO claims that 92% of solicitor firms provide information to consumers about LeO at the point of engagement, many consumers are still struggling to find it; with many unaware of the LeO and the potential help that can be offered.

When the LeO surveyed 3,680 consumers, only 20% said they were informed about the service through their solicitor. The LeO have also found that 72 firms out of a sample size of 100 made no clear reference of the LeO or did not mention them at all.

Kathryn Stone, Chief Ombudman at the LeO, said: “Many people could be losing their chance to put things right after receiving poor service, simply because they don’t know where to go.

“Legal regulations are quite clear that lawyers should be telling clients about how to complain if they are unhappy, and that they can bring a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman if they’re dissatisfied with their lawyer’s handling of a complaint.”

Transparency and clarity for complaints procedures is now a clear consideration that firms need to prioritise and improve in the future.

Are you aware of people that have struggled to access the Legal Ombudsman because of ambiguous or confusing signposting? Is enough done to ensure consumers feel their voice of complaint is heard?   

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