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Ombudsman highlights risk of rising complaints following Jackson reforms


Personal injury: costs are not a major source of complaint

Implemen-tation of the Jackson reforms could have an impact on the number of complaints against solicitors, the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has told the government.

Responding to the Ministry of Justice consultation on civil justice costs, LeO said ending recoverability could cause consumers “to take more of an interest in their lawyers’ fees [and] it could be worth considering the effect this might have on consumer complaints”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the current regime, LeO’s data so far shows that far fewer people have complained about costs information in personal injury claims than in other areas of law.

In a carefully neutral response, LeO said the proposed reform of the costs regime “could mean consumers are more likely to believe their lawyer’s fees are too high or consider that their lawyer did not adequately explain the fee structure to them before starting their case.

“Alternatively, it could lead to consumers asking more questions about the system prior to instructing their lawyer and so have a better understanding of their situation, and be more satisfied with the service provided by their lawyer.”

LeO said the proposals might also have an impact on the types and sizes of provider offering personal injury services. “It is possible that certain types of provider may deliver higher service levels than others, and we hope to be able to share information with you on this in the future.”

Data from the first four months of LeO shows that 8% of complaints it investigated related to personal injury and 9% to litigation. Taken together they are one of the top three areas complained about by consumers, along with family law and residential conveyancing. The most common complaint in personal injury cases is that the lawyer caused a delay.

In response to a separate Ministry of Justice consultation on claims management companies (CMCs) offering up-front incentives for people to claim, LeO said there needs to be a more joined-up approach between its work and that of the claims management regulator as “we think consumers are confused about the roles of CMCs versus law firms, and particularly where they should go for redress should they experience poor service”.

Personal injury complaints LeO has investigated to date that involve CMCs include CMCs passing on insufficient information about claims to solicitors’ firms, causing a delay in taking forward cases; CMCs passing on personal details to law firms without permission; and consumers concerned at being contacted many times by solicitors following referrals from CMCs.