The Legal Ombudsman is going to publish details online of upheld cases where it is has found poor service. Currently this is only done for complaints where the lawyer is charged a case fee, that is, in situations where Leo finds that the firm’s handling of the complaint was not sufficient and where it does not agree with the remedy (often an apology and a compensation payment) offered by the firm to the complainant.
In practice this will mean that more information about complaints made against firms will be in the public domain. Given that the price and service transparency reforms are shining a brighter light on the quality of service offered by firms this could have an impact in terms of public perception of a firm and potentially impact their reputation.
At the moment, where a case fee is not charged, LeO’s website only records the fact that a complaint has been made – not any information about the circumstances of the complaint or whether or not any poor service was found.
A paper before last month’s meeting of the board of the Office for Legal Complaints – which oversees LeO – said the aim was to make the presentation of the information less confusing. It also plans to add a new column to the register of complaints indicating whether or not firms have handled the complaint effectively.
Furthermore, LeO is to include a scoping exercise on publishing full ombudsman decisions in its 2019/20 business plan, noting that the Financial Ombudsman Service, Pensions Ombudsman and Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman all publish full decisions on their websites.
The paper said: “In the ongoing push for transparency, it seems that this will be the general direction of travel in the future, and we therefore need to consider whether there are steps we should be taking to make our work and processes more transparent.
“If we decide to proceed after scoping, the full project can be integrated into our strategy for 2020-2023.”
It acknowledged that publishing decision data had long been contentious amongst lawyers, and that “even minor changes could revive disquiet and we anticipate significant concern from the profession about the publication of full decisions because of the potential impact on business.”
But the paper argued that further context to decision data “is likely to be advantageous to service providers, rather than a greater threat to them”.
It said too that publishing full ombudsman decisions would open up “several” opportunities: “Service providers will get a better idea of the types of issues commonly raised, our approach to them, and a general illustration of how we handle complaints. We anticipate that learning from these examples will drive up standards in first-tier complaints handling.”
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