The Legal Ombudsman, which resolves complaints about the services provided by lawyers, has announced new powers to help consumers.
Increased compensation amounts, and a significantly longer time in which consumers can make a complaint are among the new powers.
Which? welcomes the announcement, having actively campaigned since 2007 for more generous financial compensation, and to increase the complaint time limit.
Read our guide on when to take a complaint to the ombudsman.
New Legal Ombudsman powers
From today the following revisions have come into effect:
- Financial redress limits have increased from £30,000 to £50,000
- The time limit for accepting complaints has increased to six years from the date the problem occurred and three years from the time a consumer should have been aware of the problem. This is now inline with the Financial Ombudsman Service and the courts
- Complaints will now be accepted from consumers who were refused a service from a lawyer unfairly. For example if someone was discriminated against on the grounds of their gender or sexuality and this led to a problem like missing a court deadline
- Complaints will also now be accepted from consumers who were aggressively sold a legal service they didn’t want or need, for example from a claims management company
Which? Principle Advocate, Mark McLaren, said: ‘Access to redress is one of the most important consumer principles, so any change that means consumers can get their complaint heard more easily is good news.
‘More consumers with legal problems will benefit from these welcomed changes. Especially in terms of increased compensation amounts and for people who didn’t realise something had gone wrong until years after the event.
‘For example, someone who bought a house in 2006 but only realised there was a fault in the conveyancing in 2012 when they tried to sell the property and discovered a problem that should have been dealt with, will now be able to seek redress.’
Expected impact on complaint handling
It is hoped that the new powers will ensure the Legal Ombudsman becomes a more viable alternative to court action for disgruntled legal customers.
The organisation currently receives 75,000-80,000 complaints about legal services each year including complaints about wills, divorce, personal injury and buying or selling a house.
It now expects around a 10% increase in the proportion of complaints and a subsequent increase in the number of full investigations it carries out.