Legal Ombudsman eyes publishing full complaints rulings

Complaints: Case fee will no longer determine publication

The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is to explore publishing its full decisions on complaints against lawyers, rather than just brief details as now, it has emerged.

In the interim, it is to put online details of upheld complaints for all cases where it has found poor service –at the moment, this is only done for complaints where the lawyer is charged a case fee.

A case fee is charged unless LeO agrees with the remedy offered by the lawyer and considers that the lawyer’s complaints handling was reasonable.

Where it is waived, the LeO website only records the fact of a complaint and whether or not poor service was found.

This means that in future, in all cases where there is poor service, the website will state the area of law, remedy and complaint reasons.

A paper before last month’s meeting of the board of the Office for Legal Complaints –which oversees LeO – said the case fee driver for publication “means that we do not provide consumers with all the details of every poor service finding against a given firm”, while consumers found the current presentation confusing as it involved ‘null’ fields and £0 remedy amounts.

The other planned change in the short-term is to add to the register of complaints – which publishes those dealt with in the previous 12 months – a new column on each entry to on whether firms have handled the complaint appropriately.

Furthermore, LeO is to include a scoping exercise on publishing full ombudsman decisions in its 2019/20 business plan, noting that the Financial Ombudsman Service, Pensions Ombudsman and Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman all publish full decisions on their websites.

The paper said: “In the ongoing push for transparency, it seems that this will be the general direction of travel in the future, and we therefore need to consider whether there are steps we should be taking to make our work and processes more transparent.

“If we decide to proceed after scoping, the full project can be integrated into our strategy for 2020-2023.”

It acknowledged that publishing decision data had long been contentious amongst lawyers, and that “even minor changes could revive disquiet and we anticipate significant concern from the profession about the publication of full decisions because of the potential impact on business.”

But the paper argued that further context to decision data “is likely to be advantageous to service providers, rather than a greater threat to them”.

It said too that publishing full ombudsman decisions would open up “several” opportunities: “Service providers will get a better idea of the types of issues commonly raised, our approach to them, and a general illustration of how we handle complaints. We anticipate that learning from these examples will drive up standards in first-tier complaints handling.

“Journalists and other interested external parties can use details to scrutinise service standards and trends in the legal sector, which may invite more coverage and will reduce workload of data requests.”

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