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LeO must investigate third-party complaints, consumer panel says

16 April 2012

The LSB’s consumer panel will use LeO’s forthcoming review of its rules to push for it to investigate third-party complaints.

In its third annual programme of work, published this morning, the panel said it was “frustrating that LeO is restricted from accepting many complaints because the provider falls outside its jurisdiction”.

The panel said that currently complaints were excluded when the person affected by the lawyer’s actions was not the client, meaning that a consumer could not complain about legal work on a remortgage arranged by their bank.

The panel said proposals by the European Commission promised in future to give every consumer a right of access to out-of-court dispute resolution.

“In the meantime, we will work alongside the Legal Ombudsman to work towards the voluntary jurisdiction built into the Legal Services Act. This step would enable certain unregulated businesses wishing to signal a strong commitment to consumer protection, such as members of trade associations, to resolve complaints voluntarily through the scheme”.

The panel said many clients lacked the confidence to complain about their lawyers and research would be commissioned with LeO on first-tier complaints to “explore the challenges, barriers and enablers faced by consumers as they progress through the complaints process”.

The panel said research by the Legal Services Board indicated that “consumers do not recall being told about their route to redress at the time of engaging a lawyer, as is required by rules”.

In a further development, the panel said it had been asked by the LSB for advice on the extent to which regulators’ financial protection arrangements, including compensation, are adequate and the appropriate level of risk that consumers should be expected to bear.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the panel, said: “New ABS entrants, funding reforms, pressure on third sector advice delivery and major regulatory changes make this a tumultuous time for legal services – it’s more important than ever for us to help ensure that consumers are getting access to high-quality and affordable legal services that meet their needs.”

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