The legal profession’s complaints handler is preparing to change its rules to potentially accept complaints about issues from any point in history.

The Legal Ombudsman today applied to be certified as an alternative dispute resolution provider under regulations implementing the requirements of the EU ADR directive.

The directive would remove current limits for bringing a complaint under the scheme. Clients can currently complain about an issue up to six years after it happened, or three years from discovering there may have been a problem.

In practice, many complaints older than six years are likely to be difficult to investigate, so the ombudsman will consider new ways of dealing with ‘stale’ issues. The ombudsman today said it expects the changes to have ‘minimal impact’ on lawyers.

As reported in the Gazette earlier this year, the new rules will also increase the time limit for consumers to bring a complaint. Currently they have six months from the service provider’s final response: this will be doubled to 12 months. Complaints can be made to the ombudsman only once the option of an agreement between the provider and client has been exhausted.

The ombudsman is expected shortly to publish proposals for how to implement these changes, but they are not likely to require firms to change their existing document retention policy.

Interim chief ombudsman Kathryn King said: ‘The EU’s ADR directive emphasises a need for consistency in quality standards between schemes to avoid citizen confusion and improve access to redress. It is important that the Legal Ombudsman scheme meets these aims and avoids the need for service providers to signpost to two different bodies when they have a complaint.’

The changes are subject to approval from the Legal Services Board and are likely to come into force in January.