The Legal Ombudsman is expecting to increase the number of investigations it carries out under new powers coming in to force today.

The new rules lift the ceiling on compensation awards from £30,000 to £50,000 and allow the ombudsman to accept complaints from prospective as well as real clients. The Law Society said that the extension in powers was unjustified.

In a statement, the ombudsman’s office said it does not expect the changes to increase the number of contacts it receives from the current figure of 75,000-80,000 each year. However the new rules will mean that the number eligible for investigations will rise by about 10%.

‘This will inevitably increase the number of full investigations that the organisation carries out,’ it said. Last year the ombudsman investigated 7,500 cases.

The changes coming in to effect from today:

  • Raise the limit for compensation awards from £30,000 to £50,000.
  • Extend time limits for accepting a complaint to six years from the date of act/omission and three years from the date the complainant should reasonably have known there were grounds for complaint.
  • Allow the ombudsman to accept complaints from prospective customers ‘who could reasonably have expected to receive a service or who were unreasonably offered a service they did not want’.

Adam Sampson, chief legal ombudsman, said: ‘We consulted heavily with legal professionals, regulators and consumer groups before making these revisions.

‘I’m confident that they will stand us in good stead to develop further as an effective complaint-handling body while enabling us to divert many more cases away from expensive and often slow court action towards significantly faster and cheaper resolutions.’

Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: 'There’s no real evidence that extending the jurisdiction of the ombudsman to third parties and prospective clients will benefit clients or consumers. Solicitors owe duties to their clients, subject always to a duty to the courts, and enabling third parties to seek redress risks creating ambiguity in the role of the lawyer. There needs to be strong evidence to justify such a change – this hasn’t been provided.'