Legal Ombudsman review of Scheme Rules 2022 – Law Society response
The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) held a consultation in February 2022 on its review of the LeO Scheme Rules.
It proposes changes to six key areas of the rules, alongside some minor technical changes:
- a review of the applicable time limits for making a complaint
- situations when LeO may decline to accept a complaint
- when an ombudsman can exercise a discretion to dismiss or discontinue a complaint
- wider delegation of decision making
- escalation of cases to an ombudsman
- case fees
The rules were last comprehensively reviewed in 2012.
We agree that an examination of the rules is long overdue, bearing in mind the time elapsed since the last comprehensive review and existing concerns about LeO’s performance.
We’re pleased that several proposed amendments to the rules reflect the reforms we have advocated for, such as:
- early triaging to sift out complaints outside LeO’s jurisdiction before acceptance for investigation
- situations when LeO may exercise a discretion to dismiss or discontinue complaints – for example, where a service provider has made a reasonable offer
- wider delegation of decision making in certain circumstances
These will all assist in swifter outcomes, reduced customer journey times and prevent more cases building up in the Pre-Assessment Pool (backlog waiting to be investigated).
We’re therefore broadly supportive of the proposals in the consultation.
What this means for solicitors
Depending on which proposals are taken forward, it could mean:
- a reduction to the time limit for to bring a complaint to one year from the date of omission or awareness (whichever is later). We consider this a reasonable time within which to bring a complaint
- some complaints will be dismissed at an early stage and not accepted for investigation. For example, an ombudsman could decline to accept a case if they consider the complaint to be frivolous or unmeritorious
- an ombudsman may consider dismissing a complaint where they're satisfied that the complainant has not suffered any significant financial loss, distress, inconvenience, or other detriment. This would enable an ombudsman to consider whether investigation is a proportionate use of resource, given the likely impact on the customer. An ombudsman would retain their discretion to dismiss a matter or not after the parties have been given the opportunity to make representations
- a complaint could be dismissed if a reasonable revised or increased offer is made by a firm during an ongoing investigation and the complainant decides to reject that revised offer. If a case is dismissed during the investigation process because of a reasonable offer being made, the case fee would not be applied
- in some circumstances an ombudsman’s final decision is not needed on a case if no substantive issues (such as an error in fact or law, or the availability of additional new evidence that was not available before the investigator’s decision) have been raised in response to the investigator’s findings. In those circumstances, the case would be deemed to have been resolved by the investigator’s findings
LeO is also considering some longer terms proposals, which include:
- the delegation of ombudsman decision-making powers
- possible changes to how case fees are charged – this is likely to the subject of a further consultation
The consultation closed on 13 April 2022.
LeO will analyse all responses and decide which proposals to take forward.