Chief legal ombudsman Adam Sampson has revealed that radical changes to his role and scope could be in place as soon as next February.
Sampson (pictured) said today that ministers were ‘broadly comfortable’ with a range of reforms that his office has recommended. The changes will need the approval of the justice secretary before they can come into force.
Speaking at the Motor Accident Solicitors Society’s annual conference, Sampson also suggested it will be challenging to expand the ombudsman’s role to start accepting complaints about claims management companies (CMCs), although he backed the government’s intention to do so.
Sampson said he wants to reserve the right to take complaints from prospective clients, whether or not the firm complained about has decided to take on their case.
This would include complaints from people who felt harassed by a law firm or those who felt their case had been unjustly turned away. Sampson added that this power would be used sparingly and a client would need to produce evidence to launch their complaint.
The Legal Ombudsman also wants to change the case fee structure, imposing a £400 charge on firms for accepting their first investigation. Sampson said that this change had come as a result of lobbying by the Law Society, which argued that the ombudsman’s costs should be met by the firms under investigation rather than the profession as a whole.
Maximum fining powers will also rise from £30,000 to £50,000, although Sampson was keen to emphasise the existing maximum fine had been imposed only a handful of times since the ombudsman’s office was created in 2009.
Finally, the complaints handler wants the power to consider issues from up to six years ago, as opposed to one year at present.
This is to bring the legal service into line with the financial ombudsman, and will be most applicable to clients whose complaint refers to both lawyers and insurers.
On the subject of CMCs, Sampson said it was ‘exactly the right thing to do’ to bring them into the scope of his office. But he added that getting the practicalities right was ‘quite tricky’ and said he could not predict how many extra complaints his office would receive.