Consumers reluctant to complain about legal profession – OFT

Monday January 21st, 2013

Government Opportunities (GO)The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is calling for the complaint handling procedures of legal services to be further simplified.

New research by Europe Economics, commissioned by OFT to conduct wide research into the impact of reforms in the legal services market, shows that only 13% dissatisfied customers goes on to make a formal complaint.

The low level of complaints is thought to be down to the uncertainty surrounding how or where to complain and whether a complaint is actually worth while.

The research finds that around 460,000, or one in seven, of the three million people using the UK’s legal profession each year are dissatisfied with the service they receive.

The findings form part of wider research commissioned by the OFT to understand how recent changes to the regulation of lawyers, following the Legal Services Act in 2007, have impacted on consumers.

Currently, for complaints not resolved by the provider, the consumer is often asked to distinguish between complaints about the service provided or the conduct of the provider before directing it to the appropriate body. Complaints about the conduct of a lawyer can be sent to one of 10 approved regulators, depending on the legal profession involved.

The Legal Ombudsman currently operates a single post-box system, receiving complaints not resolved by the provider before forwarding them to the relevant statutory body as appropriate. However the system is not effectively signposted by lawyers or easily understood by consumers and the OFT is calling for the system to be actively promoted as standard by all in the sector, including by the other regulators.

Mary Starks, Senior Director of Services, Infrastructure and Public Markets at the OFT, said: “A better approach to handling complaints would not only support individual consumers’ right to redress when things go wrong – together with competition from alternative providers it would also drive a more customer-focussed approach by law firms, something our survey results suggest is still needed.”

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To view the research report, click here.

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