The Solicitors Regulation Authority has ‘significantly improved’ how it deals with complaints about its service, an independent assessor has concluded.

The Independent Complaints Review Service (ICRS) upheld or partially upheld 75 cases out of 245 separate complaints issued from October 2011 to the end of 2012.

The review says the SRA can still improve how it deals with communication with complainants, delays, discrimination, information on its website and explaining how it differs from the Legal Ombudsman.

But the ICRS report, published today, concludes that one of the most notable features of this year’s review was the improvement in dealing with the early stages of complaint compared to the previous year.

It praises the ‘quality of the investigation undertaken by staff’ and noted the significant development in ‘quality, detail and tone’ of replies sent by managers of departments.

The review adds: ‘We noted that specific training of staff involved in complaint handling throughout the organisation had been undertaken and this was beginning to pay dividends in the quality of output.’

Recommendations for the future include that:

  • Signposting should be mandatory at each stage of the complaints procedure;
  • Complaint files require regular editing and chronological arrangement;
  • The role, remit and limits of the SRA should be clear to all complainants at the beginning of the process;
  • The SRA website should be used to clarify policy, procedures together with roles and responsibilities within the SRA;
  • The differing roles of the SRA, Law Society, the SRA and the Legal Ombudsman need further explanation, both within and outside the profession.

From October 2011 to the end of 2012 (the period was extended to come into line with the SRA’s accounting period) there were 101 complaints received, of which 78 were from consumers and 23 were from solicitors. Complaints fell from 21 in the last quarter of 2011 to 13 in the last quarter of 2012.

The total cost of the ICRS over the 15-month period was £139,000, which covered advice and assistance, the complaint review and all administrative costs. In comparison, the total costs for 2010/11 were £39,000. The average cost per completed case during this 15 month period was £1,544 – this was up from £1,307 per case the previous year.

Rachel Pillinger, who manages complaints about the SRA, said the number of complaints represented a ‘very small proportion’ of the hundreds of thousands of contact with the profession and members of the public every year.

She added: ‘Nevertheless there should be no complacency in the importance we give to good complaint-handling practices. Complaints provide us with valuable information about how we are performing and are perceived as a regulator and enable us to learn from any shortcomings to improve.’