Third-party complaints and a revised case fee structure are on the Legal Ombudsman’s agenda for the coming year.
A draft strategy for 2016/17 published today sets out how the organisation intends to improve its service.
The controversial issue of LeO being allowed to investigate complaints about someone else’s lawyer is likely to come up again, with the ombudsman pledging to ‘further explore’ the option of dealing with third-party complaints through analysis of internal and external data.
Consumer groups have long campaigned for LeO’s jurisdiction to be extended, but the legal profession has raised concerns about the unintended consequences. The idea was raised by the ombudsman in 2013 but not taken forward.
The 2016/17 strategy also suggests there will be ‘further revisions’ of the scheme rules, including ‘consideration’ of the case fee structure. At present, service providers are charged a fee if the ombudsman chooses to investigate a case. The case fee, in force since April 2013, is currently £400.
Last month, the Law Society called on the ombudsman to give firms two ‘free cases’ per year, arguing the impact of case fees can be considerable for small practices.
Revised case fees are intended to create an improved complaints-handling system, which will also include options for developing alternative dispute resolution such as mediation.
The ombudsman says it wants to identify key areas of service failings and use this to feed back to lawyers, working with regulators and representative bodies to get the message across.
Steve Green (pictured), chair of the Office of Legal Complaints, said the ombudsman intends to ‘sustain the pace of our change and improvement’.
This will include revisiting how ombudsman decisions are published to provide clearer information for consumers.
‘We believe that there is much more that can be done to feed back our learning to the profession and we intend to play a much greater role in helping the profession to drive up standards and in empowering consumers,’ added Green.
The chair said he remains ‘concerned’ at the absence of redress for consumers who use unregulated businesses, and he hoped any forthcoming review of the Legal Services Act will rectify that issue.
The strategy is subject to consultation, which is open until 4 April.