Our Practice Advice team has put together some of their most frequently asked questions (and answers) on current compliance issues.
Q1: I am the complaints handling partner at a high street firm. Nine months ago a conveyancing client made a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman after we failed to resolve the complaint through our internal complaints procedure. I am very dissatisfied at the manner in which the complaint was dealt with by the Ombudsman. My emails and telephone calls went unanswered for long periods and the matter was dealt with by three different case handlers. After an investigation lasting eight months, the Ombudsman ultimately upheld my client’s complaint and I have reluctantly accepted that decision. However, I am still keen to seek redress against the Ombudsman for poor service in dealing with the complaint and wonder whether there is any action that I can take?
If you have a complaint about the service provided by the Legal Ombudsman you should contact the line manager of the person you have dealt with in the first instance. If you are not happy with their response you can contact the Customer Experience Specialist by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by telephone on 0300 555 0333, or write to:
Operational Support Team, Legal Ombudsman. PO Box 6803, Wolverhampton, WV1 9WF
If you are unhappy with the response from the Operational Support team you can take your complaint to the independent Service Complaint Adjudicator, appointed by the Legal Ombudsman to deal with complaints of poor service by the Ombudsman. The adjudicator can review all the information recorded on the Ombudsman’s file, including letters, emails, telephone calls, internal memoranda and notes. If the adjudicator upholds the complaint of poor service he can award financial compensation to your firm.
For further information, please see the full complaints procedure at: www.legalombudsman.org.uk.
Q2: I specialise in family law and understand that litigation is outside the scope of the AML Regulations. A colleague of mine recently mentioned that the definition of a tax adviser has been widened and may cause some family work to fall within scope, is this correct?
The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (‘the Regulations’) have changed and widened the scope of the definition of tax adviser. The definition in Regulation 11(d) is now:
”a firm or sole practitioner who by way of business provides material aid, or assistance or advice, in connection with the tax affairs of other persons, whether provided directly or through a third party, when providing such services.”
This definition is very broad. Any firm providing a service that addresses or might impact the tax affairs of a client or refers the client to an external tax specialist should carefully consider whether their services may now fall within it. Managing changes in the legal aspects of family units (such as divorces) might create tax implications, particularly income tax and capital gains where the ownership of assets is being split or transferred. Likewise, the creation of trusts to manage asset transfers to children will likely have a tax advice service element.
It is down to each individual firm to determine whether the work it does falls within scope of the Regulations, but the SRA have issued Tax Adviser Guidance which may be of assistance at www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/resources/money-laundering/guidance-support/tax-adviser-guidance/
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. The Law Society does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information given.
This article is compiled by the Law Society’s Practice Advice Service. Comments relating to the questions should be sent to email@example.com