Consumers with grievances about a solicitor could have an unlimited time to bring a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman under changes required to meet an EU directive.

In a document published yesterday for consultation, the Office for Legal Complaints says that regulations implementing the EU alternative dispute resolution (ADR) directive, which come into force on 1 October, do not allow ADR providers to operate rules allowing them to refuse to deal with cases ‘based on the timing of the act or omission’.

The office is consulting on changes to the Legal Ombudsman Scheme to enable it to become a provider of ADR services under the 2013 directive. It put its application to become an ‘ADR entity’ on hold last month after admitting that the changes to time limits and grounds for dismissing complaints would be more fundamental than first envisaged.

The Law Society has warned that the changes have serious implications for solicitors, who could be in breach of the regulations from 1 October. It has asked the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills for guidance. 

The 2013 directive, intended to help the functioning of the EU internal market, is being implemented in the UK through regulations laid in March and June this year. Under the directive, from 1 October, law firms will have to signpost consumers to an ‘ADR entity’ competent to handle any complaint.

This is in addition to the requirement under the Legal Services Act 2007 to signpost the Legal Ombudsman Scheme.  

The Office for Legal Complaints said that it would be ‘in the best interests of service providers and consumers for the Legal Ombudsman Scheme to be certified as the ADR entity for complaints about legal services and claims management companies’. 

However, in order to be certified as an ADR entity it must comply with the regulations within a reasonable time. This will require changes to the Legal Ombudsman Scheme Rules, set by the Legal Services Board.

To achieve compliance with the directive, the Legal Ombudsman Scheme will need to extend the time limits for accepting complaints and cut the number of grounds for dismissing complaints. At present a complaint must be referred to the LeO within six months of the completion of the provider’s complaints procedure.

The consultation proposes changing this to 12 months. 

The consultation document says: ‘If scheme rules are changed, we propose to implement these changes on 1 April 2016. If scheme rules are not changed, the Legal Ombudsman Scheme will not be able to become a certified ADR entity.’

The consultation closes on 2 November. A separate consultation next year will deal with ‘wider changes to the scheme rules’, the document reveals.