Why did the SRA decide against publishing complaints data?

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) recently confirmed that it had dropped the proposal to publish data about client complaints to firms.

Detailing the extent of it’s regulatory amendments earlier this month, the regulator put forward its package of reforms, including the creation of separate Codes of Conduct for firms and solicitors, as well as enabling the latter to provide reserved legal services on a freelance basis.

In other areas, the SRA stated that it had taken on board the concerns of respondents, with one of the key changes made to the original proposals being that the publication of client complaints data to firms would be dropped.

The regulator’s reasoning for this is detailed in its post-consultation position document, which sets out a summary of the feedback received and the impact on the final decision.

Where complaints data was concerned, the SRA had initially suggested that the information collected about first tier complaints each year could be used by third parties such as comparison websites. This, it stated, could be a helpful indicator of quality if the appropriate context was provided.

However, when detailing the responses, the regulator highlighted that a substantial number of respondents has disagreed with the proposal, stating that many felt that complaints data in its raw form could be misleading, as well as potentially pose an unfair disadvantage to some firms.

Others felt that it could lead to the reporting process, in general, being distorted, possibly leading to complaints being hidden and in the long term, infringing on the ability of firms to learn from mistakes and work towards improving customer service.

The SRA did note that a minority of respondents, such as the Legal Ombudsman and the Legal Services Consumer Panel, were in support of the proposal, detailing their views on the nature of contextual information required to make the data useful for consumers.

Having reflected on the responses received, the SRA stated that they would not proceed with the publication of first tier complaints information.

Whilst it states that the decision was finely balanced given the clear benefits of publishing the data, the SRA set out that a number of factors have influenced the decision to not proceed.

This includes concern around the receipt of complaints and the possible impact the change could have on the culture within a firm around the attitude towards recording certain issues when necessary.

Where the possibility for improving comparability was concerned, the regulator stated that the majority of firms are closely concentrated around a similar level of first tier complaints. As such, helping consumers differentiate between providers would not be achieved with this data alone.

The administrative burden for firms when contextualising the data was also highlighted as a drawback, particularly given the complexity and the need for the regulator to collect further information in order for it to be delivered in a way which is meaningful for consumers.

However, whilst deciding against publishing the first tier complaints data at this time, the SRA state that it will use its digital register to signpost the Legal Ombudman’s complaints and decisions data to consumers.

In addition, it set out that it will also provide firms with guidance on engaging with reviews from clients as well as feedback platforms.

In turn, the focus of the regulator will be on encouraging firms to deal with complaints well and learn from them in order to drive up service standards.

Should it identify a pattern of increased complaints, the SRA states that it may engage with the issue further. Aggregated data on first tier complaints will be published on a yearly basis, which the regulator states allows it to highlight trends and patterns in complaints.

Do you agree with the SRA’s decision to drop the publication of complaints data from its reform package?

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