Complaints: timing under scrutiny

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has dismissed concerns about the “negative” impact of its requirement that lawyers tell clients about their complaints procedures before any work has been done.

Research by the Legal Services Consumer Panel found “negative reactions” to the prominence of this information, which must be given at the time of engagement, but the LSB said the problem was how some lawyers have chosen to provide it.

Last year, the LSB asked panel for advice on the effectiveness of current “information remedies” in legal services regulation – that is, what information lawyers should be obliged to provide and how it should be done – and whether these could be improved.

The panel delivered its report in March, drawing in part on work it did last year on client-care letters (CCLs), and the LSB has recently issued its response. This focused in particular on concerns about complaints signposting.

“The research [into CCLs] found that prioritising generic information provided consumers with an excuse for not reading the CCL more carefully,” the LSB recorded.

“Including information about complaints procedures early in the letter also led to particularly negative reactions; it was seen as strange to raise the prospect of dissatisfaction before the work had even started.

“This was not seen by consumers as an encouraging message, and suggested to some consumers that the legal services provider was not confident and expected problems. In some cases, this perceived over-emphasis on potential complaints and the suggestion that something could go wrong created anxiety.”

The CCL research suggested that, while there should be a clear reference to the complaints procedure in the CCL, consideration should be given to delivery of this information, such as whether more detailed coverage was better delivered in separate leaflets, or whether reminders could be sent later in the legal process.

The LSB said that, in its view, “the issue relates to how some providers have chosen to implement the requirement in practice, rather than the requirement itself. Providers are free to signpost the complaints procedures in alternative ways and still meet the requirements”.

As a result, and also taking account of evidence of ongoing barriers to consumers making complaints, the oversight regulator said it did not plan to revisit the requirements “at this stage”.

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