When deciding a complaint, the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) bases its decision on the evidence available and what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances. Any outcome will be based on the impact of any poor service and the individual circumstances of the case.
2. The LeO’s approach to putting things right.
The key questions which the LeO asks are:
2.1 Has there been poor service?
2.2 If yes, has the poor service led to any specific loss or disadvantage to the client?
2.3 Has the poor service had an emotional impact on the client?
2.4 Are there any steps which the LeO can take which will put the client back in the position they would have been in, if the service had been reasonable, not poor?
2.5 What kind of outcome would be appropriate in the circumstances (for example, an apology, some compensation, or the solicitors carrying out additional work)?
3. Poor service and the impact on the client.
If the LeO identifies that the service has been poor, the LeO has to determine if the poor service has led directly to any disadvantage or impact or loss to the client. Examples of disadvantage or impact or loss include:
- Financial loss, that is, it has cost more than expected, or the client has incurred additional expenses, or the client has lost money.
- Delay, that is, there has been avoidable delay by the solicitors, such as progressing a claim, or dealing with a court hearing, or handling the purchase of a house.
- Inconvenience, that is, as a result of poor service, the client has had to spend more time than should be expected following up with the solicitors.
- Distress, worry or upset, that is, the poor service has led to distress, worry, or upset additional to what the client might reasonably have expected.
There are some cases where the service has been poor, but it has not led to any disadvantage, impact, or loss. In such cases, no outcome is required.
4. What outcome can the LeO direct?
4.1 Compensation for financial loss, with the objective of returning the client to the position that they would have been in, had there been no poor service.
4.2 Compensation for distress, worry, or upset.
Most sums awarded are less than £250. The LeO has published a scale of compensation awards as follows:
- Modest award, £50 to £250, if the impact of poor service was short-lived and no longer exists. For example:
- Minimal impact or disruption on the client’s daily life.
- There were several individual minor incidents, but when added together they did not significantly affect the client’s overall experience.
- Significant award, £250 to £750, if there has been a serious, but not permanent effect on the client. For example:
- The client has experienced significant inconvenience, such as repeatedly chasing for information or correcting mistakes, or taking time off work to deal with issues, or carrying out tasks that the solicitors should have handled.
- The client had to complain multiple times about service issues which were not addressed.
- The impact of the poor service was modest but was made worse by poor complaints handling.
- A serious impact has been lessened by the actions of the solicitors or by a significant reduction in costs.
- The poor service took place over a long period of time but has now been resolved.
- Exceptional award, £750 to £1,000, if there has been long-term or serious impact on the client’s wellbeing or life. For example:
- The release of a confidential address to an abusive former partner.
- Avoidable exposure to particularly stressful situations or financial liabilities.
Payments are not limited to £1,000 as some circumstances are so exceptional that compensation in excess of £1,000 is required, but the LeO says that in practice awards in excess of £1,000 are very rare.
4.3 Refund, reduction, or waiver of solicitors’ costs.
- If the LeO considers that the poor service has reduced the value of the work that has been completed, it may decide that the solicitors’ costs should be reduced or refunded. This may be by a specific amount or a percentage of the full amount. Interest may be awarded.
- If the LeO considers that the service has been of no benefit to the client whatsoever, it may be appropriate for there to be a full refund or waiver. For example:
- Where the solicitors’ work was so poor, it was of no value to the client.
- Where the client did not receive what they had paid for.
- Where the LeO is satisfied that if the solicitors had given the client accurate information on costs, the client would not have proceeded.
4.4 Non-financial remedies
- An apology. This is not an admission of fault and may mean more than a small payment, but it must be meaningful and sincere. The LeO suggests that an apology should include:
- An acknowledgment of the service failing.
- An acceptance of responsibility for the problem.
- An explanation for why the poor service happened.
- An expression of regret for any impact.
- A brief explanation of what action is being taken to prevent the same thing happening again.
- Completing or correcting work. Sometimes it is appropriate to direct that further work be carried out free of charge in order to put the client back into the position that they would have been in had the poor service not occurred. The LeO will clear about what is required and how long the solicitors have to accomplish it. The solicitors will be asked to agree or to pay for someone else to do the work.
- Progressing the matter within a specific timeframe. Sometimes all the client wants is for the solicitors to complete the work within a reasonable timeframe. This may be difficult if the work relies on other organisations such as the court or the Land Registry.
- Returning documents. Many clients request the LeO for a direction that the solicitors return the client’s file. If appropriate, the LeO may give such a direction, although it may not be appropriate if the solicitors are exercising a lien for unpaid costs.
Our Complaint Management Service provides firms with an effective outsourcing solution that enables complaints to be addressed quickly, with impartiality, and resolved in the most effective manner.
Using an outsourced solution for complaint management still keeps the firm in control, but also delivers an independent perspective that can assist in the more effective resolution of complaints and avoid them escalating to the Legal Ombudsman or the SRA.
Our complaint managers understand law firms and the services they offer and will quickly get to the core issues and guide and advise the firm on the most effective remedy.
We will advise and guide the firm on how to resolve the complaint without causing further escalation and what action the firm should take if needed. We will work in tandem with the firm, ensuring the firm is protected at all times and taking action that is both justified and proportionate.