The handler of complaints about solicitors wants greater scope to investigate all professional services that have a legal dimension.
The Legal Ombudsman today called for a broader approach, to mirror changing consumer behaviour and innovations in industry and legal services.
The call came as the organisation revealed that the number of complaints fell in 2012/13 from 74,420 the previous year to 71,195.
The number of complaints accepted for investigation increased by just 10 to 8,430 year on year, whilst the ombudsman service resolved 7,455 cases – a slight fall from 7,630 the previous year.
Elizabeth France, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, said developments in the legal market had ‘eroded traditional boundaries between sectors’ and created the need for a rethink of its remit.
‘At the moment the Legal Ombudsman can help put things right for some consumers if service providers are regulated but this needs to be broadened - all consumers of legal services should have access to redress.
‘We should define legal services, broadly, to include linked professional services and advice that has a legal dimension.’ She added that with people turning to free legal advice from consumer charities as a result of cuts to legal aid, they may not have anywhere to turn if things go wrong in some cases.
The ombudsman’s report found that issues with divorce (18% of resolved complaints), house buying (14%) and will-writing (12%) were the three largest source of complaints.
The ombudsman has attracted criticism from the legal sector over the time complaints take to be resolved and the administrative burden it can cause to firms.
Chief ombudsman Adam Sampson (pictured), whose total pay for 2012/13 remained at £161,245, said firms should use complaints to learn how they can improve.
‘In this rapidly changing legal market, the onus is on providers to be clear what they are providing, how the funding of services works, and what protections the consumer is offered.
‘Consumers can also protect themselves better by asking lots of questions and choosing their legal provider carefully.
‘But lawyers should not be afraid of complaints. Complaints are rich in information about how the legal sector is performing and what people object to or feel strongly about when buying services.
Total expenditure last year was £16.6m, cut from £17.3m in 2011/12. This was £400,000 under budget.
Since opening in 2010, the Legal Ombudsman has received around 185,000 contacts and resolved 16,500 complaints.