Complaints about SRA rise on back of major law firm closure

SRA: Low number of complaints overall

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been hit by a wave of complaints relating to its closure of law firm consolidator Kingly Solicitors in the summer of 2020.

The number of complaints to the regulator relating to interventions and claims on the Compensation Fund more than doubled in the year November 2020 to October 2021.

The SRA said “much of the increase” related to “one of our biggest ever interventions” in August 2020, into a law firm with 16 offices. Kingly Solicitors was not named in the report but is the only one fitting the description.

In a paper to its board, the SRA said the number of corporate complaints rose to 972 in the year 2020-21, its highest level for five years and an increase of over 5% on the year before.

Of these, 172 were handled by the SRA’s claims management unit, which deals with complaints about interventions and compensation fund claims – more than double the 69 received the previous year.

The SRA said it had taken “many hundreds of thousands of files into our care” following the closure of Kingly.

“We worked as quickly as we could, but processing the volume was time consuming and meant some former clients needed to wait longer than we would usually expect for the return of their documents.

“This caused some understandable frustration and concern and led to a number of complaints being raised with us.”

The SRA said another source of complaints was the PC renewal exercise in 2020, which used “newly implemented IT and telephony platforms”. Complaints to the SRA’s contact centre increased from 139 to 175.

“Teething problems with our new systems caused inconvenience to some firms and individuals.

“While we saw an increase in complaints, these were resolved swiftly by our contact centre and IT colleagues who provided dedicated support for those experiencing difficulties.”

Despite the rise in complaints about interventions and PC renewals, more than half its corporate complaints (56%) continued to be about its handling of complaints about solicitors.

The top three themes remained the same as the previous year – concerns about outcome, delay and communication.

We reported recently that the regulator had set out plans to reverse the increase in the time it takes to investigate complaints, after the number of cases open for more than 12 months topped 1,000 last year.

The SRA said it received 23 complaints about bias, most of them from members of the public “concerned we acted in a way to protect solicitors” and 12 about discrimination.

In one of the discrimination cases, relating to disability, the SRA admitted failing to implement reasonable adjustments agreed at the outset of the case, causing “understandable frustration and upset”.

Meanwhile, the SRA’s independent reviewer of internal complaints, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), said in its report on 2020-21 that the complaints referred to it still represented “a remarkably small proportion of the SRA’s overall caseload”.

CEDR represents the final stage of the complaints process, dealing only with complaints that are unresolved after review by the SRA’s central complaints team.

It received 150 initial enquiries in 2020-21, of which 78 were closed at an early stage, either because they had not completed the first stages of the process or had been abandoned after that.

Most of the remaining cases (40) related to the SRA’s decision not to take regulatory action after an allegation of misconduct against a solicitor acting for the complainant’s opponent. This is more than twice the figure (19) for complaints relating to the complainant’s own solicitor.

The remaining complaints reviewed by CEDR were from solicitors, either about regulatory action against the complainant or lack of action relating to another solicitor.

CEDR said it remained a concern that members of the public did not understand the SRA’s regulatory role and the distinction between complaints about its service and alleged misconduct by solicitors.

A further concern was the number of complaints about “family inheritance issues”, particularly those involving undue influence or mental capacity.

“These cases generally arise from highly emotional family disputes, and it can be difficult to resolve complaints about solicitors, particularly if historic evidence is limited.”

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