Lawyers face new push to improve complaints guidance

Topics: Regulation and compliance

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Lawyers could face new demands to inform clients about how to complain amid concerns that too many consumers are still in the dark about where to turn.

Oversight regulator the Legal Services Board said this week it wants to look again at guidelines dating from 2010 outlining what regulators should expect of lawyers in terms of notifying clients about their rights of redress.

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The fresh approach could see the Solicitors Regulation Authority make additional demands of solicitors about how and when they highlight clients’ rights to complain.

Research has shown in the past that just a quarter of those clients unhappy with their service were informed of first and second-tier complaints-handling procedures.

The LSB says current rules are largely still fit for purpose, but regulators can offer more support to lawyers in first-tier (for example, in-house) complaints-handling, notification and signposting.

The oversight regulator proposes that the SRA and other approved regulators ‘should set clear, concise guidance’ for lawyers to help them with complaints-handling and signposting.

‘This should reflect current best practice for communicating with clients, including client care letters,’ said the LSB.

‘Approved regulators should satisfy themselves that authorised persons understand and are effectively delivering those arrangements.’

The LSB’s guidance, which is subject to an eight-week consultation, states that regulators should ensure lawyers’ complaint-handling processes ‘must be convenient and easy to use’, as well as ‘transparent and clear in relation to the process, well publicised and free’.

Regulators should make sure lawyers provide sufficient information to all consumers to enable them to identify whether they do have a right to take their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.

At present, regulators require all lawyers to notify clients in writing at the time of engagement of their right to complain and how this can be done. At the conclusion of the first-tier complaint process clients must be informed about the option of taking their complaint to the ombudsman.

But the LSB said the outcomes required of lawyers are ‘some way from being achieved’, with low consumer awareness of the LeO indicating current requirements do not reflect consumers’ needs.

Successive ombudsman satisfaction surveys have shown fewer than a quarter of clients heard about the service through their lawyer. The LSB’s legal services benchmarking survey in 2012 found 26% of clients, at most, were told by their lawyer about complaint procedures.

Neil Buckley, chief executive of the LSB, said: ‘Improving complaints-handling was one of the LSB’s three main priorities at its inception. However, evidence collected since 2010 suggests that, while the outcomes specified by the LSB in this area are still relevant and uncontentious, they have not yet been fully achieved; further action is needed.

‘Through this consultation, the LSB wants to understand if it can help regulators better support lawyers in meeting their regulatory duties for first-tier complaints-handling to improve outcomes for consumers.’

Readers' comments (26)

  • Regulator says more regulation needed....

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  • Solicitors now wander a barren regulatory landscape, beyond parody, inhabited only by fundamentalists, but sans hope, sans justice sans everything!

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  • Exactly Mick.

    Regulator says not enough solicitors have been out out of business, we need more litigants in person at the High Court and Court of Appeal and in serious Criminal Trials so we want a few more out of business and particularly those that are one or two or three person bands and not large insurance led giants, the likes of which that we can see are in trouble now and although they have standardised complaints processes never follow them. .

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  • What are the profession doing navel gazing over complaints procedures again, & giving yet another opportunity to those who would have it that we are overpaid & unworthy, especially those of us prone to repeated legal aid bashings. We are already required to advise on complaining the second someone even thinks of instructing us. Next we will be required to pay them compensation before they even complain.

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  • Look Darren, as if you didn't already know, there is a big 'market' out there for Insurers and Banks and Supermarkets.

    Them's gold in them thar hills matey ....

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  • What would regulators have to do if they ever were to decide they had done enough? I think that those who enforce the existing regulations might just find they have a full workload when the S&G 'proverbial' hits the fan.

    And then there's the internet. LSB ever heard of that? It's all on there. If we are moving towards tax returns on-line-only, why not just say all solicitors' clients should go on line with their complaints? Sorted! Enjoy!

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  • Complaint numbers are going down. The only logical conclusion, for regulators, is that the complaints are being suppressed whether deliberately or otherwise.

    I of course welcome comment from any LSB employee to tell me I'm wrong.

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  • If memory serves didn't we find out a few weeks ago that there weren't enough complaints to warrant the amount of support staff the ombudsman employed to deal with the supposed influx of complaints.
    Completely self serving concept like the Turkey farm pushing for Christmas Two to be brought in, in June, so that they get to use the shiny new knives they've just overpaid for and aren't getting a chance to use.

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  • I would imagine the true proportion of clients properly informed of complaints procedures is rather higher than these figures suggest. Perhaps the information gets somewhat lost and diluted among the multitude of other information we are obliged to give clients.

    It is not so surprising that they don't remember a particular section of a 16 page terms of business document sent alongside a 3 page engagement letter and 2 page notice under the The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation And
    Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.

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  • Can we be permitted to include in our Terms of Business how to complain about the LS, SRA, SDT, LeO and LSB, or would that not be allowed? And don't forget we by definition deal with denizens of a disputatious disposition half the time so they are out for a fight of some sort. Many don't seem to care who the target is, they just want a fight. any fight.

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