There is a “small but material rate of non-compliance” by solicitors with their complaints-handling requirements – and some bad attitudes towards complaints – confidential research by the Solictors Regulation Authority (SRA) has found.
The revelation came in a series of documents released by the Legal Services Board as it handed all eight of the frontline regulators action plans to consider taking with the aim of improving the way they oversee complaints-handling by lawyers.
They form part of continuing work by the LSB to improve complaints handling, including YouGov research last year that found evidence that consumers were not universally well treated by providers through the complaints process. This led to LSB chief executive Chris Kenny writing to all the regulators about what they were doing about the issues raised, and now publication of the LSB’s interim conclusions on the progress made by each one.
As part of its work, the SRA has conducted a thematic review of complaints handling by solicitors. Mr Kenny said the confidential draft of this showed that the non-compliance “appears to be compounded by some evidence of poor attitude among providers about complaints received from consumers”.
Handing the SRA 12 action points to work and report back on over the next six months, he urged the SRA to use its new risk-based approach to regulation to target those firms causing problems, and said it should “do more to develop an understanding of the consumer’s experience of the complaints-handling process”.
Mr Kenny gave the Bar Standards Board eight points to work on over the next six months, highlighting in particular the relationship between barristers and their chambers over complaints handling, given that only the former are regulated. The extension of direct access will “change the risks that barristers’ complaints systems will need to be able to deal with”, he added.
All of the other regulators were given more general actions, as well as 12 months to report back on them.
Mr Kenny said: “Ensuring that consumers are able to complain about the services that they receive and that the complaints are handled appropriately is fundamental to ensuring that the legal services regulatory system is achieving its purpose.
“Although much progress has been made, most regulators still have more to do in understanding the volume and nature of complaints, focusing on consumer experience of the process and, most importantly, using information about the effectiveness of complaints-handling as part of their wider monitoring, supervision and enforcement activities.
“In writing to the regulators, we are both reaffirming our determination to ensure that progress on this issue stays at the front of all of our agendas, and we are reiterating that the consumer needs continued assurance that complaints will be dealt with in an appropriate and satisfactory manner.”