From 1 February the level of compensation the Legal Ombudsman can award to dissatisfied customers will rise from £30,000 to £50,000. The increase is one of several enhancements to the legal watchdog’s complaints-handling rules agreed by parliament.

For the first time the ombudsman will be able 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.

Meanwhile, the time limit for accepting a complaint will increase 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.

These time limits will be extended gradually from issues arising after 6 October 2010 – the date the ombudsman’s complaints service opened for business. However, the LeO will continue to accept complaints about issues before 6 Oct 2010 if the complainant became aware of it only after this date.

The ombudsman said it does not expect the changes to add substantially to the 75,000-80,000 contacts it receives each year, but it does expect around a 10% increase in the proportion of contacts that will fall within its eligibility criteria, increasing the number of full investigations that it carries out.

Adam Sampson, chief legal ombudsman, said: ‘At the heart of what we are proposing is a desire to future-proof against changes in both the legal market and our jurisdiction. In particular, we want to reduce confusion among consumers by co-ordinating our scheme with other ombudsman schemes and ensure we can order firms to give the appropriate level of redress.’

Sampson said that he had consulted heavily with legal professionals, regulators and consumer groups before making the revisions.