The government review of the Legal Services Act needs to give clients of unregulated providers access to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) so as to close off a “competitive advantage” enjoyed by those that are regulated, the complaints body said this week.
LeO will also consider offering new forms of dispute resolution, according to its draft 2016-17 strategy, which is now out for consultation.
Steve Green, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints – the body that oversees LeO – said: “We remain concerned at the absence of redress for consumers who choose to obtain legal services from unregulated businesses.
“It cannot be right that that the absence of redress has the ability to act as a competitive advantage to legal businesses which sit within the regulated part of the sector. We hope that the opportunity to correct that imbalance will be taken in any future re-visiting of the Legal Services Act.”
Last year, Lord Chancellor Michael Gove committed to a review of the Act during the current Parliament.
The strategy said LeO’s overall goals for the next year were to continue to improve efficiency, implement changes to its jurisdiction, help create an improved complaints handling system, and “disseminate what we have learned more widely”.
Among the ways it planned to achieve these objectives were considering the options for development of alternative dispute services, “which could include consideration of methods of resolution which we do not currently offer (for example mediation and first-tier complaint support).
The strategy also made it clear that work on accepting complaints from non-client third parties would continue. Also on the agenda were how LeO could help lawyers and consumers when complaints are made prematurely, a review of its policy on publicising ombudsman decisions, and consideration of its case fee structure.
Mr Green added: “We believe that there is still more that can be done in the coming year to build upon our achievements and intend to sustain the pace of our change and improvement. For example, this consultation document shows how we intend to improve the balance of our performance between completing investigations as in a timely manner as possible whilst providing the highest-possible quality.”