Law firms attracting the highest number of complaints to the Legal Ombudsman could find themselves in a published annual review of their performance under new plans floated by the complaints handler.
The ombudsman last week proposed to write annual reviews for a set percentage of service providers, likely to be the ones with the highest complaint volumes, with information on how complaints were resolved and other details.
Such data is expected to be of ‘great interest’ to consumers, service providers, regulators, policy-makers and journalists, the ombudsman said. A detailed report would be sent directly to firms with an edited version published on the ombudsman website.
The proposal appears in a consultation aimed at increasing transparency about complaints and in particular furnishing consumers with information about service quality – a key requirement of the Competition and Markets Authority report published almost three years ago.
The ombudsman is currently empowered to name firms and their complaints data as part of limited quarterly updates. It can also name a firm or legal service provider as being the subject of a pattern of complaints resulting in ombudsman decisions; in these circumstances details of the case will also be published, but this has happened only a handful of times in the ombudsman’s nine-year history.
A second option for improving transparency – and considered the ‘end goal’ by the ombudsman – is simply to publish all ombudsman decisions in full, removing details of complainants.
This is already standard practice among complaint handlers in other sectors and is considered to provide a fairer picture, the ombudsman said. Law firms currently contend that the way data is currently presented is detrimental as consumers do not fully appreciate that a complaint may reach final decision without any poor service actually being found.
The ombudsman says the ‘publish all’ option could also improve understanding of its work and give consumers richer data to make choices about a legal services provider. But this proposal is not considered realistic in the short term as it would require significant resources not currently available.
As a low-cost alternative, the ombudsman also suggests allowing visitors to its website to filter by complaint type or remedy, in addition to the options currently available to search by service provider or area of law.
Consultation lasts until 9 December, with the ombudsman ‘mindful this can be a controversial topic’ and inviting as many people as possible to respond.