Ombudsman to reduce time limit for complaints

The Legal Ombudsman has launched a consultation on proposals to reduce the timeframe in which clients can make complaints about solicitors.

Currently complaints are permitted within six years of a mistake, or within three years of discovering a problem that may require investigation. Under new proposals these timeframes would be reduced to just one year.

The Ombudsman has stated that reasons for reducing timeframes include the challenges associated with gathering evidence for older claims, for example when a firm has closed.

The Ombudsman estimates that by introducing a new time limit of one year, the number of complaints requiring investigation would reduce by around 30%.

Further proposals also include enabling Ombudsman staff to dismiss complaints without the need to first accept that case for investigation, and allowing cases to be dismissed mid-investigation if a reasonable settlement offer is made by the firm in question.

The new proposals form part of the Ombudsman’s strategy to reduce backlogs and lengthy waiting times for which it has been widely criticised.

The Ombudsman had attempted to reduce significant backlogs and delays which it attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic. But despite a 13% budget increase last year to improve services and reduce delays, the number of outstanding cases yet to be investigated increased by 9%.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, commented:

The Legal Ombudsman has faced significant performance challenges in recent years. There is a substantial backlog of complaints in the Pre-Assessment Pool, and as a result, the length of time customers are waiting for their case to be investigated is unacceptable.

In 2021/22 the Office for Legal Complaints outlined a two-year plan for recovery. In it we were clear about the urgent need to reduce the backlog of complaints, improve customer journey times, and be more transparent about performance and the progress being made. We are still not where we need to be, but as we approach the mid-way point in our two-year journey, I am pleased to see that the foundations for investment in people and new ways of working are in place.

 It is now vital that these foundations are supported by the right Scheme Rules – a set that support the customer experience and drive efficiency is essential to achieving and sustaining longer-term stability. The current Scheme Rules do not afford the flexibility to execute minimum formality in the complaints process and are in many ways preventing the Legal Ombudsman from providing the best possible service to its customers.”

The consultation will run until 13th April 2022.

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