Accountants authorised to offer probate work have been reminded of their responsibilities in dealing with complaints.
According to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), nearly 100 accountancy firms are now licensed to offer probate services.
The opportunity came about last September when the ICAEW was allowed to authorise firms under the Legal Services Act 2007.
The Legal Ombudsman this week issued guidance to those who offer these services, stating that these accountants now fall under its jurisdiction, and that complaints about legal services provided since September can now be taken up.
Legislation gives the ombudsman the power to investigate complaints about all ‘authorised persons’ who have provided a legal service.
The guidance says that accountants should be aware which services are considered a legal service, such as probate and estate administration.
The ombudsman will also ‘look carefully’ at complaints around other activities, such as representing a client in a tax situation or providing tax advice, to decide if a legal service has been provided.
Accountants are reminded that the initial response to a complaint should be made within eight weeks, after which the LeO can be asked to step in and investigate.
The guidance adds: ‘Under the Legal Services Act all accountancy firms (who are authorised for probate activities and have provided a legal service) must inform consumers how to complain to the ombudsman, and cooperate with our investigations.
‘Non-cooperation with the Legal Ombudsman may result in a misconduct referral to your regulator.’
The time limit rules are similar to those kept by the Financial Ombudsman Service, which accountancy firms are already subject to.
But the rules around case fees are different. All businesses under the financial ombudsman scheme are entitled to 25 ‘free’ cases a year, and are then charged £550 for the 26th and each subsequent case.
Under the LeO, if it accepts a case for investigation, a £400 case fee is charged, which is set by the lord chancellor.
However, there are circumstances were the case fee will be waived: for example if the complaint is withdrawn, if it is resolved in favour of the service provider, or if the LeO is satisfied that the service provider took all reasonable steps to resolve the complaint.
In total 92 entities are now authorised by the ICAEW to offer probate services.