A call by the competition watchdog for simpler complaints procedures in the legal profession has received the support of the Legal Services Board.
The Office of Fair Trading’s recommendation followed the publication of research today showing that only one in eight dissatisfied customers goes on to make a formal complaint about their solicitor.
Researchers attributed the low level of complaints to uncertainty about how or where to complain - and scepticism about whether complaining is worth the effort.
‘Too many consumers are unhappy with the service they receive, yet are put off pursuing complaints by the complexity of the system,’ Mary Starks, the OFT’s senior director of services, infrastructure and public markets said.
‘A better approach to handling complaints would not only support [an] individual consumer’s right to redress when things go wrong - together with competition from alternative providers it would also drive a more customer-focused approach by law firms, something our survey results suggest is still needed.’
The research published today shows that around 460,000, or one in seven, of the three million people using the UK's legal profession each year are dissatisfied with the service they receive. The findings form part of wider research on the Legal Services Act’s impact on consumers.
The LSB’s chief executive, Chris Kenny, described the OFT report as ‘a timely reminder that much more needs to be done’ but said the regulator was already moving in the direction recommended. ‘We have signalled in our draft business plan for 2013/14 that we will be commencing work on the cost and complexity of regulation generally.
‘We will also be looking to hold regulators to account as they move towards regulating by clear outcomes rather than elaborately detailed rules.’
The Law Society said that the figures show that over 70% of legal services users are satisfied. 'In a field where proceedings are often contentious or emotional and where a satisfactory outcome is not guaranteed, that suggests a good standard,' a spokesperson said. 'We believe that it is right that consumers should complain if they are dissatisfied and support proportionate measures to ensure that they are aware of the correct procedures."
The OFT’s study is also critical of the process for authorising alternative business structures, describing it as ‘slow with only around 70 out of more than 150 applications for non-traditional legal service firms approved to date’.
It called for regulators to speed up the process for approvals and to make sure no unnecessary barriers prevent businesses from entering the legal services market.
However the Law Society said that a lengthy process was inevitable given the novel risks involved. 'There is potential for some ABSs to give rise to concerns about conflicts or problems with other regulatory issues and we believe that it is right that the SRA should be cautious about those applications,' a spokesperson said. 'We are aware of concerns that other simpler applications are also taking a long time and we are monitoring this. We hope that the timescales will shorten as the SRA’s experience improves.'