Firms are better than ever at getting complaints resolved without the need for the legal ombudsman’s intervention – despite more people coming forward to air their grievances.

Data published today by the Solicitors Regulation Authority shines a light on complaints statistics for the last six years. The regulator has committed to publishing this data annually as part of its drive to improve information about legal services.

When clients are dissatisfied with the service of a firm, they can complain directly and should receive a final written response to what is called this ‘first tier complaint’ (FTC). If the issue is unresolved clients then contact the ombudsman. Firms have to provide their complaints data as part of the annual authorisation process.

The number of FTCs received, according to the information provided by firms, has increased from 26,570 in 2012 to 28,113 last year. This chimes with separate research which has suggested fewer people are prepared to be ‘silent sufferers’: the SRA quoted one survey showing the proportion of those who are unhappy but do not complain has fallen from 49% in 2017 to 35% in 2018.

Despite the rising numbers, firms are statistically better at sorting out problems. The number of FTCs resolved increased from 19,089 in 2012 to 22,847 in 2018. More instructively, the proportion of FTCs resolved in 2018 was 81%, compared with 71% resolved at an early stage in 2013. Last year saw the highest proportion of complaints resolved since records were first kept seven years ago.

The most common types of complaint – delay, failure to advise and excessive costs – are also the most likely to be resolved.

Larger firms are also proportionately more likely to resolve a complaint. The SRA points out this is probably due to larger firms having dedicated resources for handling such tasks.

The SRA says it wants firms to use this information to improve their standards of service and benchmark themselves against this aggregate data.

As well as the complaints data, the SRA has also published a wider report on service. The review cites one survey showing that most people (88%) are satisfied with the service they receive from solicitors and two-thirds (65%) said they felt solicitors offered good value for money.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: ‘The public don’t just want positive legal outcomes, they want to be treated fairly and kept well informed at all stages of dealing with a law firm.

‘Nowhere is this more important than when handling with complaints. By being open and constructive, firms can not only resolve issues quickly, but enhance their relationship with their client. This makes good business sense for everybody.’