Changes to the Legal Ombudsman Scheme Rules
Following a review earlier in 2022, the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) announced that its Scheme Rules will be revised from 1 April 2023.
We welcome the amendments, which should result in LeO handling complaints more efficiently and swiftly.
There are three key areas for change:
- the time limits for bringing complaints
- discretion to dismiss or discontinue complaints
- discretion to decline to issue an ombudsman decision
The time limit for referring a complaint to LeO will be not later than one year from the date:
- of the act or omission being complained about; or
- when the complainant should have realised that there was cause for complaint
LeO will have discretion to accept out-of-time complaints in circumstances where it deems it "fair and reasonable to do so".
LeO will introduce additional circumstances in which an ombudsman can dismiss or discontinue a case:
- if they were satisfied that the complainant has not suffered "significant" loss, distress, inconvenience or detriment
- where the size or complexity of the complaint, or the behaviour of the complainant, results in the complaint requiring a "disproportionate" use of resources
- where there has been "undue delay" in bringing a complaint
- where the service provider has made a reasonable offer to resolve the matter that has been accepted by the complainant before they refer the complaint to LeO
LeO will have discretion to consider a complaint to have been resolved on the basis of an investigator's case decision if neither party provides "any substantive reasons" for disagreeing with that decision.
An ombudsman may conclude that a final decision is not needed on a case if no substantive issues have been raised in response to the investigator's findings or remedy.
LeO expects service providers to honour a recommendation by an ombudsman that a remedy is payable.
If a service provider "fails to do so within a defined period of time", the complaint can request that the case is passed to an ombudsman for a decision.
What this means for solicitors and firms
It’s essential that solicitors and firms update their internal complaints processes to reflect the changes.
Firms should communicate the changes to the time limits to their clients in advance of 1 April 2023.
Firms must make changes to client communication material, such as:
- client care information
- terms of business
- any published information on websites
- any signposting or guidance that outlines when a complaint can be taken to LeO
LeO has shared suggested wording for client care letters and final response letters in its guidance on revision to Scheme Rules (PDF 217 KB).
Over the coming weeks, LeO will be publishing FAQs to ensure that firms and members of the public are aware of how the changes might impact on them or their complaint.
LeO will also make sure that its templates, factsheets and guidance notes are updated and easily accessible on its website.
Find out more
Sanchia Wheeler, head of compliance at Gowling WLG, explains the steps you need to take to remain compliant in our online classroom on changes to the Scheme Rules.
The course includes an action planning template you can use to implement the changes in your organisation.
Handling complaints effectively may protect your firm's reputation and prevent future complaints. For information on best practice, check our updated practice note on handling complaints.