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Leo Considers New Complaints Strategy

By John Hyde » Third-party complaints and a revised case fee structure are back on the Legal Ombudsman’s agenda, according to a draft strategy for 2016/17 published last week. The controversial issue of the LeO being allowed to investigate complaints from third parties is likely to come up again, with the ombudsman pledging to ‘further explore’ the option through analysis of internal and external data. Consumer groups have long campaigned for the Leo’s jurisdiction to be extended, but the profession has raised concerns about unintended consequences. The idea was raised by the ombudsman in 2013 but not taken forward. The 2016/17 strategy also suggests there will be ‘further revisions’ of the scheme rules, including ‘consideration’ of the case fee structure. At present, service providers are charged a fee if the ombudsman chooses to investigate a case. The case fee, in force since April 2013, is currently £400. Last month the Law Society called on the ombudsman to give firms two ‘free cases’ per year, arguing that the impact of fees on small practices can be considerable. Revised case fees are intended to create an improved complaints-handling system, which will also include options for developing alternative dispute resolution. The ombudsman’s office says it wants to identify key areas of service failings and use this to feed back to lawyers, working with regulators and representative bodies to get its message across. Steve Green, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, said the ombudsman intends to ‘sustain the pace of our change and improvement’. This will include revisiting how ombudsman decisions are published to provide clearer information for consumers. ‘We believe that there is much more that can be done to feed back our learning to the profession and we intend to play a much greater role in helping the profession to drive up standards and in empowering consumers,’ added Green. Green remains ‘concerned’ by the absence of redress for consumers who use unregulated businesses, and said he hopes any forthcoming review of the Legal Services Act will rectify that issue. The strategy is subject to a consultation, which closes on 4 April.

[Courtesy: The Law Gazette]