Good complaint handling is good for business. Chief Ombudsman OBE, Kathryn Stone, outlines some basics for getting it right.

Our research into the economic benefits of a robust complaints handling system has shown that it is likely to increase your profitability. Potential net benefits to the industry stand at between £53m and £80m over 10 years. What’s more, good complaint handling is actually pretty simple. Here I’ll tell you about two aspects of the process that service providers seem to struggle with: effective signposting and understanding our timeframes.

Signposting

All regulated legal service providers are obliged to tell their clients (and those eligible to use our service) about accessing redress from the Legal Ombudsman. Your regulator specifies these requirements in a Code of Conduct. The same obligation also requires you to tell your clients about your in-house complaints handling procedure.

Despite this, our yearly awareness survey, conducted by YouGov, reveals that just two per cent of people who had used a legal service in the past two years had first heard about the Legal Ombudsman from their lawyer.

In addition to this, we’ve come across complaint policies in which solicitors were directing their client to the Legal Complaints Service (LCS) or even, on occasion, the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS). The LCS has been closed since 2010 and the OSS pre-dates that organisation.

Both of these issues could result in people losing their chance to put things right after receiving a poor service, simply because they don’t know where to go. But it also reflects on your reputation, which means it could cost you future business, as well as a case fee.

Timeframes

The other area of our work where some service providers have misinformed clients is our timeframes. Take these recent examples:

We have discovered complaint policies in which clients are advised they should make a complaint within 12 months of a problem occurring. In fact, our scheme rules say that complaints can be made within six years of the problem occurring or within three years of the date on which the client became aware of an issue.

Another solicitor’s final complaint response advised a client he needed to contact our scheme within 28 days of the response if he wanted us to look into it. Complainants actually have six months from the date of the solicitor’s final response to refer their complaint to our scheme.

We have also come across a number of solicitors who believe that the Legal Ombudsman is part of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Of course, we are a separate, independent organisation. It is important that both clients and service providers understand this since it reflects on the integrity of our investigations. It will also give people greater confidence in the impartiality of our work.

Where can you find more information?

To clarify, once your client has raised a complaint with you, you have up to eight weeks to respond. If your client isn’t happy with your final response, or you haven’t responded within the eight weeks, they can then ask us to look at it.

More information about timeframes is available from the FAQ section of our website . And we have a helpful Here to Help factsheet , which you can refer to when signposting clients to our scheme.

We also frequently run professional learning courses for service providers. These courses focus on first tier complaints handling and best practice, as well as helping delegates to understand the Legal Ombudsman’s complaints process.

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