Bring unregulated providers within LeO’s jurisdiction, says chief ombudsman

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16 September 2016

Stone: system needs to be clearer for consumers

Stone: system needs to be clearer for consumers

The changing legal market means that anybody offering legal services – including unregulated providers – should have to offer some kind of access to the Legal Ombudsman, the chief ombudsman has said.

Kathryn Stone said this would be “a much more coherent way for us to provide our service”.

Speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum earlier this week, Ms Stone – who has been chief ombudsman since the start of 2016 – said that as the debate about regulatory reform developed, the future of redress also needed to be considered.

She said: “What we currently have works well if you are a consumer who’s bought a one-dimensional legal service from a single supplier and that’s all you need. If you have a problem, we can probably help you to solve it or we can certainly give an impartial assessment of it.

“However, increasingly people don’t buy services like that. They buy bundled services which might come from a range of different suppliers all with different routes of redress and, frankly, asking consumers to navigate a way through all of that is confusing to say the least.”

She said LeO aspired to a system that was much clearer “from the consumer end of the telescope” and that also had a “more complete reach” across the legal sector.

“I know from talking to staff that there is nothing more dispiriting or frustrating for them than hearing a horrendous story of people who have engaged with an unregulated provider, had a horrendous service and there is nothing that we can do about it.

“Consumers don’t know they are buying a service from unregulated providers – and they certainly do not know what redress protection they are covered by when they select a legal provider.

“We need to think carefully what the range of redress options might look like – not necessarily everyone needs the full fat ombudsman approach.

“Maybe there are other things that we can do that will provide options – not every service might need the binding ombudsman decision nor might all be solved by mediation – although anything we could do would be voluntary and funding of it would need consideration.

Ms Stone concluded that there should be a mandatory requirement that anybody who is providing legal services has to offer access to the Legal Ombudsman.

“I believe that would be a much more coherent way for us to provide our service – it would allow our ability to impact on the quality of service to be all encompassing. This would give everyone a sense that everybody is on a level playing field where redress is concerned.”

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