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LeO moots annual review of most complained about firms

10 October 2019

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The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has floated plans to publish annual performance reviews of legal service providers which receive the largest number of complaints.

In a new consultation, the complaints handler outlines a number of options for boosting transparency about the complaints it receives and providing consumers with better information about service quality.

This follows a 2016 report by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on the legal services market, which called for improved transparency from firms and regulatory bodies alike.

One proposal put forward by LeO is to prepare annual reviews for a set percentage of service providers based on specific selection criteria – likely to be those with the most complaints against them – which would present an overview of complaint volumes, types and remedies.

A detailed report would be sent to firms, with an edited version published on the ombudsman website. The report said: “We believe this could be of great interest to consumers, service providers, regulators, policymakers and journalists.”  

At present, the LeO is allowed to name firms and their complaints data as part of quarterly updates. Legal service providers at the centre of a pattern of complaints resulting in ombudsman decisions can also be named; details of the case can also be published in these circumstances but this has happened only rarely since LeO started work in 2010.

Another option suggested to improve transparency includes publishing all ombudsman decisions, with the details of complainants omitted, which is common practice by ombudsman in other sectors.

The report said that this approach “is widely acknowledged as best practice and useful for consumers across a range of markets”, but acknowledges that undertaking full publication would have significant resource implications.

It added: “At a time where operational resource is at a premium, aiming for this in the short term is not a realistic goal. Nevertheless, we do see this as the end goal of improving LeO’s transparency.”

One of the easiest ways for the LeO to provide consumers with more information about the legal services market, the report said, is to offer an extra range of filters for its ombudsman decision data.

“Currently, those who visit our website are able to view our data by service provider or by area of law, but we consider that it could be useful to allow them to filter by complaint type, or by remedy. This would be a low-cost, easily-implemented change to our data. However, it is not clear that this would have a great deal of impact with regards to transparency.

The report said LeO is also keen to publish a greater range of data about the complaints it sees – beyond just the ‘final decisions’ it can currently publish under the Legal Services Act 2007.

It said: “The information we make public is missing a large swathe of the work that comes to us, including some rich data that would tell us interesting things about the legal services market and the way we operate. If were to make a greater range of data available, this would include cases resolved by agreed outcome and by case decision (both of which are types of ‘informal’ resolution that we attempt at earlier stages of our process) and would be one of the simplest ways we could clearly improve the transparency of our processes.”

It concluded that there is not a significant distinction between complaints that are resolved more informally and those that receive an ombudsman’s final decision. “The raw numbers of complaints we investigate about a given firm is indicative of dissatisfaction on the part of consumers and we believe it should therefore be reflected in the data we publish. It should not need to reach an advanced stage for this to matter.”

The report can be viewed here.

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Regulation Regulators Ethics, professionalism and judgement