Section 112 of the Legal Services Act 2007 – First-tier complaints handling

In 2010, the LSB published guidance for first-tier complaints handling.This set out that approved regulators must have regulatory arrangements in place requiring all individual lawyers and entities they regulate to notify all clients in writing:

  • at the time of engagement of their right to make a complaint, how and to whom this can be done
  • at the conclusion of the complaint process, of their right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman, the timeframe for doing so and full details of how to contact the Legal Ombudsman.

In our 2015/16 business plan, we committed to a review of the effectiveness of these requirements (made under Section 112 of the Act) and the accompanying guidance (made under Section 162 of the Act). This was to assure ourselves that they continue to reflect the needs of consumers, in that they get appropriate information when they need it on their rights to complain and the process for doing so, and that our guidance to approved regulators is effective.

Our initial assessment of the progress that approved regulators have made in delivering these consumer outcomes in the five years since requirements were put in place revealed that:

  • the outcomes in the publication were still relevant and uncontentious, but were some way from being achieved
  • low consumer recall of the Legal Ombudsman scheme could indicate that complaints handling requirements did not reflect consumers’ needs and / or poor practitioner compliance
  • updating LSB requirements / guidance could potentially address these issues.

Based on these findings, we consider that updating the guidance element of the 2010 publication could help approved regulators to better support authorised persons to meet their regulatory duties around complaints handling. However, we consider that the requirements and outcomes for clients remain broadly fit for purpose.

In light of this analysis, on 2 March, the LSB released a consultation on proposed changes to its first-tier complaints handling requirements, outcomes and guidance.

We received eleven responses to the consultations, which can be found here.

On 26 May, the Board considered the findings of the consultation. A Decision Document provides a summary of the responses and its consideration of the responses. The majority of the responses were supportive of the proposed updates. Some suggested further changes, which the Board agreed to and incorporated in many cases. Explanations have been provided in the Decision Document outlining where suggested changes have and have not been incorporated.

Upon finalisation, the Decision Document and the updated requirements and guidance were published and came into effect on 22 July 2016, superseding the May 2010 version.