Law firms will this year have to give the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) a detailed breakdown of the number and type of complaints they have received in the past 12 months, as part of the process of renewing their authorisation.
The information will be used to build a picture of complaints-handling among law firms – identifying any thematic risks that need addressing – and also “to highlight where there may be a risk that a specific firm has inadequate or insufficient systems for dealing with complaints”, the SRA said.
“Failure to handle complaints properly when they do arise is a key indicator of risk to our regulatory objectives. Not only does it potentially impact on consumer interest and professional principles but can undermine access to, and confidence in, justice,” an SRA briefing added.
Firms will be asked how many complaints they received in 15 different categories – ranging from costs information to failure to follow instructions – how many they resolved to the satisfaction of the client, and how many were referred on to the Legal Ombudsman.
The Legal Services Act requires the approved regulators to ensure that those they regulate have effective procedures in place to resolve complaints, so-called first-tier complaints handling. The SRA and the other regulators are under pressure from the Legal Services Board to prove that this is the case.
The board has set the standard for regulators as ensuring consumers have “confidence that complaint-handling procedures provide effective safeguards for them; and complaints will be dealt with comprehensively and swiftly, with appropriate redress where necessary”.
Research on first-tier complaint handling published in March by the LSB found a gap between what is expected to happen under the regulatory framework and what is actually happening.
To develop a complete picture, the SRA said it will also use second-tier complaint data from the Legal Ombudsman and information arising from its supervisory activities and consumer-client research.
The SRA has previously warned that the move to risk-based regulation will result in it seeking more regulatory information from firms than now. However, it said that “in recognition of the pace of change this year”, it has limited the level of “significant new information” sought this year to complaints.