The Law Society has told regulators that solicitors should not fund any expansion of the complaints process to include non-regulated firms.
The Legal Ombudsman is consulting on extending its jurisdiction to investigate complaints on behalf of clients of unregulated providers.
The extension forms part of the three-year strategy published earlier this year and chimes with the recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which reported on the legal sector in December.
The solicitors’ representative body said it was clear that members should not subsidise a complaints scheme by LeO covering unregulated firms.
The Society said it would be ‘inappropriate and unreasonable’ for any groundwork for the extension of LeO’s powers to be funded through solicitors’ practising certificate fees.
With the CMA advocating an increase in competition and potentially more unregulated providers, the Society said there will be an increasing burden on the Legal Ombudsman.
‘Solicitors’ practising fees should not be used to subsidise work to explore new jurisdictions,’ said the response. ‘This is especially so in circumstances where the solicitors profession has funded the start-up costs of LeO.’
The Society noted that LeO’s assertion it will not be ‘explicitly expansionist’ was incongruent with efforts to extend the jurisdiction. Similarly, any attempt to revisit the idea of third parties being allowed to make complaints would appear to contradict the ombudsman’s own outlook.
The Society said it expects a full economic impact assessment if LeO is to allow small and medium-sized enterprises to complain.
The organisation vowed to work with LeO in 2017 to improve the guidance to solicitors to ensure they fulfil their regulatory and signposting requirements.
In a separate consultation response, the Law Society has also told the Legal Services Board to hold regulators to account for any changes they are making.
Replying to the oversight regulator's business plan and strategy for 2017/18, the Society said the LSB should require a 'full cost-benefit analysis of any proposed changes, thus ensuring a sound evidence-base for change and bolstering transparency and accountability'.