A reminder about complaint procedure obligations, with useful suggested wording to be included in client care letters.
I have been totting up the number of different regulators to which a client may be able to complain about a solicitor and I have come up with five abbreviations that will be familiar to legal practitioners: SRA, LeO, OISC, FCA and ICO. However, would your clients know which of them may be able to help and in what circumstances? Not all will apply to every practice but it could be worth checking whether your client care letters include the relevant information.
Since individuals can complain to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) if they are unreasonably denied a service, or to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) if a solicitor discriminates against them unlawfully, it is good practice to put your complaints procedure on your website, so that an individual does not necessarily have to receive terms of business information to know how to raise a problem.
To start with the obvious, you have to inform clients of your regulatory status.1SRA Code of Conduct 2011, Chapter 1, Outcome 1.7.
Solicitors and most practices will be regulated by the SRA. Not-for-profit practices are not regulated as entities by the SRA but the solicitors working in them are. The SRA can deal with complaints about any breaches of the Handbook, although complaints about the service provided should be made to the LeO (see below).
Some practices may also be regulated by other bodies in relation to some services, for example, the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), if your immigration or debt practice is in a third sector organisation.
You must inform clients, in writing at the outset of their matter, of their right to make a complaint and provide full details of how to do so.2Ibid – Outcome 1.9.
You must also inform them, in writing, at the time of engagement and at the conclusion of your complaints procedure, of their right to complain to the LeO, the time frame for doing so and full details of how to make contact: PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton WV1 9WJ, telephone 0300 555 0333 or email email@example.com
.3Ibid – Outcome 1.10.
You will want to encourage clients to contact their caseworker or someone within your practice first, so that any problem can be resolved quickly and without reference to the LeO.
We are committed to providing high-quality legal advice and client care. If you wish to raise any concerns about the service that you have received, please raise them with me so that we can resolve them quickly. If you are still unhappy or would prefer to contact someone else, please contact [insert details of your internal complaints contact]. We have a complaints procedure, which is available on request [you may also wish to insert a link to your complaints procedure if it is on your website]. Making a complaint will not affect how we handle your case.
The Legal Ombudsman could help you if you are not happy with our work or service and need to put things right. Before accepting a complaint for investigation, the Legal Ombudsman will check that you have tried to resolve your complaint with us first. If you have, then you must take your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman:
• within six months of receiving a final response from us to your complaint
•no more than six years from the date of act/omission; or
•no more than three years from when you should reasonably have known there was cause for complaint.
Clients must be made aware of their right to challenge, or complain about, their bill.4Ibid – Outcome 1.14.
This includes informing clients of their right to apply for assessment of the bill under Part III of the Solicitors Act 1974. You also need to explain if they may be liable to pay interest on an unpaid bill.
Clients need to be informed of their data protection rights, including their right to complain to the information commissioner.
If you are unhappy about the way we manage your personal information, you have a right to object to the Information Commissioner, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF (tel: 0303 123 1113). https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/