We aim to provide a high-quality legal service to our clients. When something goes wrong, we need to know about it so that we can put things right and improve our standards.
The procedure outlined below also helps us to identify and address any systemic failings or areas of bad practice. Where appropriate, we will apologise and, in some cases, offer recompense to those who complain.
Concerns and Formal Complaints
The firm operates a two-tier complaints procedure, dividing matters into Concerns and Formal Complaints, as below.
Who can complain under this Policy and Procedure?
A Concern or Formal Complaint can be brought by any client, potential client or someone authorised to do so on their behalf (including a personal representative or beneficiary of the estate of a deceased client).
If a Concern or Formal Complaint is raised by anyone else, the matter should be referred to the Complaints Handler, who will consider whether the complainant is covered by this Policy and Procedure, or whether the matter should be dealt with by some other means.
A concern or complaint can be about our service or our charges.
There are occasions where clients express Concerns that can quite properly be dealt with swiftly and resolved informally by the Supervisor of the staff member with conduct of the matter.
Supervisors will make a judgement as to whether they are able to swiftly and informally deal with the issue to the client’s satisfaction.
If a Supervisor considers that the issue amounts to a Formal Complaint then they should immediately refer the matter to the Complaints Handler.
Guidance for Supervisors on whether an issue amounts to a Concern or a Formal Complaint is available in the firm’s Office Manual. In case of doubt, the Supervisor should seek the advice of the Complaints Handler.
In order to deal with the Concern, it will usually be necessary for the Supervisor to undertake a brief investigation of the circumstances giving rise to the issue. Any Concern must be dealt with swiftly and in any event within 10 working days. A note of any communication pertaining to the Concern should be recorded on the appropriate matter.
When seeking informally to resolve any Concern, Supervisors shall inform the client of the right to make a Formal Complaint to the Complaints Handler should they wish to do so.
Supervisors must immediately make their Head of Department aware of any Concern raised or of any matters that they have referred to the Complaints Handler.
If the Supervisor is unable to resolve the problem or considers that it amounts to a Formal Complaint then the matter shall be referred to the firm’s Complaints Handler and Senior Partner, Jacky Starling.
A Formal Complaint is defined as:
- A substantial expression of dissatisfaction
- Made by any means of communication
- About an alleged act or omission of, or the general standard of service provided by, the firm’s employees, consultants or agents
- Which the complainant alleges has led or may lead to the complainant suffering financial loss, distress, inconvenience or other detriment
- Which requires investigation and a response
- Which, if upheld, could result in an apology and/or recompense.
If a Concern has not been resolved to a complainant’s satisfaction, then that can also be considered as a Formal Complaint upon request.
Role of the Complaints Handler
The Complaints Handler will deal with the Formal Complaint, promptly, fairly, openly and effectively.
The Complaints Handler will consider whether the complaint is being made within the time limits that the Legal Ombudsman applies (see below) and may not investigate the complaint if it falls outside these time limits.
The Complaints Handler will:
1. Confirm the client’s preferred method of communication and help them understand the process. Although it does assist if the complaint is put in writing, clients can communicate with the Complaints Handler in any way they wish.
2. Acknowledge receipt of any Formal Complaint within 5 working days.
3. Normally provide a substantive final response within 15 working days. If more time is required then the client will be informed of the reasons for this, with 8 weeks normally being the maximum length of time for any final response to be provided. In order to provide the substantive response, the Complaints Handler will:
- Embark upon an investigation of the circumstances of the case by undertaking a fact-finding exercise being impartial, open, transparent and proportionate to the seriousness of the complaint.
- Establish where possible what the complainant wants as an outcome.
- Identify the cause of the problem and offer any appropriate redress and correct any unsatisfactory procedures.
- Inform the client at the conclusion of the investigation of their right to take the matter to the Legal Ombudsman should they remain dissatisfied and provide their contact details.
- Report to the relevant Head of Department on the nature and circumstances of the Complaint.
The Complaints Handler will keep a central record of complaints that will contain details of the:
- Date of receipt
- Origins of complaint
- Cause and nature of the complaint
- Identity of the individuals concerned
- An assessment of whether the complaint is justified or not
- Action taken, remedies offered, and any systemic failures identified.
- Date final response was sent.
The register will be reviewed annually by the Complaints Handler to verify that the Complaints Policy is in effective operation across the practice. The register is considered at Members’ Meetings.
The Legal Ombudsman
If we are unable to satisfactorily resolve the Formal Complaint, then the client will be informed of their right to take the matter to the Legal Ombudsman. Before a client approaches the Ombudsman, they must usually have already made a Formal Complaint to us.
The Legal Ombudsman will not normally consider a complaint unless:
- It is made within 6 months of the client receiving a final response from us; and
- It is made in relation to an act or omission that took place after 5 October 2010 (or the client should reasonably have known about the cause of complaint after that date); and
- It is made no later than one year from the date of the act or omission being complained about or one year from when the client should reasonably have known there was cause for complaint.
The Legal Ombudsman can accept late complaints, and may do so if the Legal Ombudsman considers it is “fair and reasonable” to accept the late complaint for investigation.
A referral to the Legal Ombudsman is generally not available to the following clients: –
- most businesses (unless they are defined as micro enterprises)
- charities or clubs with an annual income of more £1m, or
- trustees of trusts with asset value of more than £1m
Further details are available at: www.legalombudsman.org.uk/
The Legal Ombudsman can be contacted by:
Telephone: 0300 555 0333
Post: PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton, WV1 9WJ
The Solicitors Regulation Authority
We are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The SRA can help if you are concerned about our behaviour. This could be for things like dishonesty, taking or losing your money, or treating you unfairly because of your age, a disability or other characteristic.
Further details, including how to report a solicitor or firm, are available at: www.sra.org.uk
The Solicitors Regulation Authority can be contacted by:
Telephone: 0370 606 2555
Post: SRA, The Cube, 199 Wharfside Street, Birmingham B1 1RN
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors 2019 requires that if a complaint has been brought and our complaints procedure has been exhausted without the complaint being settled, in addition to providing information about the right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman (see above), the complainant is also provided with the name and website address of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) approved body which would be competent to deal with the complaint; and confirmation as to whether the firm agrees to use the scheme operated by that body
Regulation 10 of the Provision of Services Regulations 2009 (as amended) now requires the Secretary of State to maintain a list of ADR bodies and to ensure that the list is published on a nominated website. The list is available on Chartered Institute for Trading Standards website. Of those on the list, ProMediate (www.promediate.co.uk) holds itself out as dealing with disputes with Legal Services (and other industries). The firm is not prepared to engage in ADR with any of these bodies as either they are approved but do not cover the legal services industry, or (as with ProMediate) there is a similar and cheaper right of redress available through the Legal Ombudsman, who has expertise in these matters.
This Complaints Policy and Procedure is intended to comply with the Legal Ombudsman’s Scheme Rules, as last updated on 1 April 2023.
Jacky Starling, October 2023