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OFT attacks complex legal complaints process

One third of dissatisfied clients do not understand how to complain

21 January 2013

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The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has attacked the complexity of the legal complaints process, after a report it commissioned from consultants found that a third of dissatisfied clients said they did not complain because they did not understand the process.?

Europe Economics said it contacted just over 2,000 people last summer as part of a bigger survey by IpsosMORI.

Around a third of consumers had used a legal service since 2007, most commonly conveyancing or wills and probate.

The consultants pointed out that the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) had to redirect 13,500 complaints back to firms, compared with the 8,420 complaints it actually accepted.

Mary Starks, senior director of services, infrastructure and public markets at the OFT, said: “Too many consumers are unhappy with the service they receive, yet are put off pursuing complaints by the complexity of the system.

“A better approach to handling complaints would not only support individual consumers’ right to redress when things go wrong – together with competition from alternative providers – it would also drive a more customer-focused approach by law firms, something our survey results suggest is still needed.”

Similar conclusions

Chief Ombudsman Adam Sampson said LeO’s research has drawn similar conclusions to the OFT about why dissatisfied legal service users did not complain.

“For instance we found that consumers often believe they won’t get a fair hearing or that lawyers aren’t signposting customers to the Legal Ombudsman.

“The Legal Ombudsman was set up specifically to replace the various legal complaints bodies in existence at the time so that consumers would have a single point of contact for legal complaints. Once the customer has complained to their lawyer, if they are unhappy with the outcome they can bring it to us.”

Sampson added that the introduction of LeO had reduced the cost of complaints handling in the legal services sector by around £18m per annum, a 51 per cent reduction on the old system.

Chris Kenny, chief executive of the Legal Services Board, said the OFT’s report was a “timely reminder that much more needs to be done to modernise legal services market and make it more consumer friendly.

“The fundamental issue which the report raises is one of the continued simplification of both the design and the operation of the regulatory regime.”

Kenny said the LSB would begin research on the cost and complexity of regulation as part of its business plan for the next financial year.

The OFT has invited representatives from the legal profession, regulators and consumer groups to a roundtable meeting this week to discuss complaints handling and other research findings.

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