All lawyers will have to give clients clear information about how to complain, and their regulators will have to monitor that it is done, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has announced.
Exercising its power under section 112(2) of the Legal Services Act 2007, the LSB has issued guidance that individuals and firms have to notify clients, at the time of engagement (or existing clients at the next opportunity) of their right to make a complaint, how and to whom, including their right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman at the conclusion of the complaints process.
Written notification of the right to complain to the ombudsman should be repeated at the end of the firm’s complaints-handling process.
It will be for the approved regulators to ensure that those they regulate understand their responsibilities “and are appropriately held to account for their performance”, the guidance says. This will require “appropriate monitoring and data-gathering systems”. They will also need procedures in place to learn lessons from complaints-handling to improve the regulatory framework more generally.
LSB chairman David Edmonds said: “Improving complaints-handling has been one of the key drivers of the reforms. It is essential that consumers have the information they need to identify whether they have a right to take their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman, and if so how to do it. The launch of the Legal Ombudsman, underpinned by action to improve firms’ own handling of complaints and learn the lessons from them, should give consumers greater confidence in the speed and fairness of dispute resolution and so finally resolve an issue which has troubled the reputation of the sector for some time.”
The guidance says a complaint means “an oral or written expression of dissatisfaction which alleges that the complainant has suffered (or may suffer) financial loss, distress, inconvenience or other detriment”.
It outlines the complaint-handling processes that it expects lawyers to offer. “[It] must be convenient and easy to use (in particular for those that are vulnerable or have disabilities). They should make provision for complaints to be made by any reasonable means. The way in which complaints are dealt with must be transparent and clear in relation to process, well publicised and free. The process itself should be prompt and fair, with decisions based on a sufficient investigation of the circumstances. Where appropriate, there should be an offer of a suitable remedy.”
The guidance also states that where a solicitor instructs a barrister, the consumer must be told how to make a complaint against the barrister.