LeO should reintroduce ‘free cases’, says Society

Topics: Law Society activity,Regulation and compliance

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The Law Society has called on the Legal Ombudsman to give firms two ‘free cases’ per year, and consider exempting those acting pro bono from paying fees.

Previously the ombudsman exempted firms from having to pay fees for the first two complaints it investigates. This was abolished in April 2013. Practitioners currently have to pay £400 per case.


In a response to a consultation on the LeO’s draft budget proposals for 2016-17, the Law Society said that the impact of case fees on small practitioners ‘can be considerable’. It wants the two free case fee rule reinstated, and consideration given to exemptions where work is carried out pro bono. It also said the LeO should consider whether the level of case fees should form part of its review on scheme rules.

The Society said: ‘We recognise there is a balance between maintaining the quality of decision-making and cost reduction, and we welcome the chair’s commitment to ensuring both. We would like to see the LeO look at ways it could cut costs, for instance by settling complaints at an earlier stage.’ 

The Law Society welcomed the news that LeO will reduce spending by £500,000 in the next financial year to £11.7m. But it said the unit cost is still high compared to other ombudsman schemes, and that this should be reduced. 

Readers' comments (22)

  • Given the hell they put you through eg. Suggesting huge payments to complainants before even hearing your side, emailing you after hours, demanding responses sometimes in effect within two working days, failing to give the name of the Ombudsman which is against their own rules. Failing to respond to your complaints about them, failing to acknowledge your complaint, then repeating the very things you have complained about, it is disgraceful that they then think they should charge you £400.00 for the privilege. They even complained that we were now following procedures they had made us pay compensation on seven years ago and accused us of lying to them because we followed those procedures. You really couldn't make it up. Oh and let's not forget one letter from them recently where they asked us to explain the law to them, and complained that we sent them all relevant case papers because it would take them too long to read them. What on earth is the management in that place up to. They would certInly fail Lexcel If ever audited. At least we have the good grace to apologise to clients and offer compensation if we think we have made a mistake.

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  • Wow, that's awful, Jacqueline. This brings to my mind that case where two defendants in a criminal court had to be discharged because no one knew who they were. Should we all just refuse any cooperation until certain steps have been taken? The first would, of course, be the abolition of all fees, at least until the case was concluded. The second would be the payment of a £400 fee upon the making of a complaint. The third, two weeks at least between each request for information, or an allegation, for a reply to be given? The LeO is like Employment Tribunals when no fee was payable, complaints were made without any foundation and employers threw in the towel purely on economic grounds.

    In Victoria in the 19th century in their criminal courts it was said that you were 'innocent until proved Irish'. In the eyes of the LeO it seems we are 'innocent until proved solicitors'.

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  • What if you're Irish and from Rochdale?

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  • Guilty until proved innocent, Anon!

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  • If a client's complaint is not upheld then they should pay £400.00 it takes about a day and a half of fee earning time to deal with a complaint properly.

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  • I disagree. Why should the rest of the profession pay for these solicitors' complaints? Polluter should pay. In fact each case costs £1200 to deal with so the £400 fee is a bargain. Firms can avoid the LeO if they offer mediation, for example ProMediate or Small Claims Mediation. The Law Society is out of order here.

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  • Anon @ 9.12

    if the Ombudsman had investigators who were literate, properly educated and had the necessary skills and experience to deal with the matters before them then we might have confidence that the decisions reached would be fair, reasoned and appropriate and in such circumstances the 'polluter pays' principle would be one I would support.

    The absence of a review mechanism short of Judicial Review makes challenging the decision of the Ombudsman, in practical terms, impossible.

    Here is my experience of the Ombudsman.

    We represented a client in a claim, she was 'proofed' by counsel in conference and throughout presented a cogent, credible and reasoned case. The claim proceeded with the support of her BTE insurer to trial.

    Under the weight of the Court room and pressure of x-exam she admitted she'd made the whole thing up and was found to be fundamentally dishonest with costs against her.

    The Ombudsman found that the service was inadequate, not because we didn't warn the client about fundamental dishonest (we did, counsel did, she endorsed his brief accordingly), not because the claim was not properly presented (they found it was) but because despite the client having BTE, we failed to advise her about ATE or take out a policy.

    So, a finding against us for not doing something that we didn't need to do and should not have done.

    The result £nil compensation to the client.

    Apropos Private Eye, if that's justice then I'm a banana.

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  • Couldn't agree more. I work in-house for a national company. We changed our Ombudsman because the existing one was totally unfit for purpose. We now use one that charges the polluter £100.00 before they will investigate. That doesn't dissuade those with a genuine grievance but it certainly deters the chancers, of which there are many.

    I also worked in private practice and witnessed first hand the way in which the LeO would make ridiculous decisions, punishing an already struggling practice in the face of legal aid cuts, with £400 penalties left right and centre when there was little if any fault on the part of the firm.

    The LeO are frankly a disgrace and a further example of consumer "political correctness" gone mad.

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  • Anonymous 9.12. You are being ironic aren't you?

    I'm all for the polluter paying but most of the profession is paying for not polluting. The reality of life for most of us at the chalk face dealing with the general public is that a huge amount of the complaints we receive are from certified fruitcakes or people who would cross the street for an argument. We have to indulge these people under the current mad regime as does LeO. They know that firms are on the hook for £400 and basically try to make your life a misery so you will eventually buy them off despite providing a good level of service to Mr or Mrs Bonkers from Barking.

    But Anonymous 9.12 you don't deal with people like that do you?

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  • Anon @ 9.12 yes, we should definitely pay these companies who for all we know are less able, have even less qualified and able staff to mediate when we can errr have the LeO kick them out for free.

    The scheme rules provide that if you have properly responded to the claim and (if any remedy is awarded by the Ombudsman) offered at least that remedy in your final response, then the case fee will be waived.

    Have you got an interest to declare per chance?

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