The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has ruled out investigating complaints about unregulated legal services, or collecting data about them, without a new source of funding.
Responding in full to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) report, which recommended that both steps should be considered, LeO said it would be “inappropriate” to use money raised by a levy on the profession.
LeO said extending redress “to a whole new range of users of legal services” would help ensure a “much greater level” of consumer protection.
“However… it would be inappropriate to use our current funding streams to work on expanding our jurisdiction. We are also aware that now is not the right time to pursue legislative change on the scale that this would require.
“Therefore, we will not explore the issue of unauthorised providers further, but agree to be informed by any decisions from the Ministry of Justice on this matter.”
LeO said that if a designed budget, distinct from the levy on lawyers, was allocated for the work, it would commit to a “scoping exercise” on unregulated providers.
The service also warned that it would impossible to collect information from all the people who complained about unregulated services, and taking “extra steps” could be impractical.
“It would be counterintuitive to advise a consumer that their matter was something that LeO could not investigate and then ask questions about the type of service provided.
“This would not be consistent with our general approach to collection of data at the contact stage, and might cause consumer confusion and frustration.
“The Legal Ombudsman will therefore continue to provide data at current levels but decline to collect and provide further data on unauthorised providers unless specified funding is allocated for this.”
In response to the CMA’s recommendation that complaints data should be more accessible, LeO said it was discussing including complaints in the single digital register of all regulated lawyers that the legal regulators are currently considering.
“We support this initiative on the basis that collating information from a range of different sources is likely to improve the quality of online comparison tools, and so increase public understanding of legal services.”
On the CMA’s call for an overhaul of the Legal Choices website, to improve consumer education, LeO said it believed the existing website had “failed to reach many consumers” and that those who do use the platform “are presented with only a narrow view of the market as a whole”.
LeO added: “We are confident that in working together, stakeholders in this project can develop the website much further and ensure that relevant, up-to-date information is available in a user-friendly manner.”