Customers reluctant to complain about legal profession - Business Works
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Customers reluctant to complain about legal profession

Mary Starks, Senior Director, OFT Research from the OFT shows 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. However, only one in eight (13%) of dissatisfied customers goes on to make a formal complaint

The low level of complaints was found to be largely due to uncertainty about how or where to complain and scepticism about whether complaining is worth the effort so OFT is calling for the legal profession’s complaint handling procedures to be further simplified.

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.

The research also looked at progress in authorising alternative business structures, where legal services can be supplied by a one stop shop as part of a package with other, non-legal, services, such as accountancy and property services. The research found approval processes for these new businesses to be slow, with only around 70 out of more than 150 applications for non-traditional legal service firms approved to date. The OFT is calling for regulators to speed up the process for approvals and to make sure there are no unnecessary barriers preventing businesses from entering the market to deliver legal services to consumers in new and innovative ways.

"We are encouraged by the recent reforms, which have improved the regulation of legal services and removed unnecessary barriers to firms offering new business models to consumers," said Mary Starks, Senior Director of Services, Infrastructure and Public Markets at the OFT. "However, our research shows that there is still room for improvement. Too many consumers are unhappy with the service they receive, yet are put off pursuing complaints by the complexity of the system."

"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."

You can read a full copy of the research report here: Economic Research into Regulatory Restrictions in the Legal Profession

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