Consultancy report slams ombudsman complaint system

MOST people who have their complaints investigated by the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman (OLSO) are dissatisfied with the service they get, a damning new report reveals.

The research, commissioned by Legal Services Ombudsman Ann Abraham, says that “delay is inherent in the current system and so is dissatisfaction”.

The OLSO service is also perceived as lacking the personal touch and proactive communication.

Consumers wishing to complain about legal services, find the process – with its multiple stages – too long and complicated, it says.

The report refers to the process as a “Super-Escalated Complaint Environment”.

The report from the Customer Management Consultancy (CMC) also takes a swipe at lawyers and legal bodies, with two out of its three key recommendations calling them to clean up their act.

Lawyers need to give priority to resolving complaints effectively in the first place, the report says.

The research team examined the expectations and understanding of the four main OLSO users: enquirers (people seeking information and advice); complainants (people whose cases are investigated); practitioners (solicitors, barristers and licensed conveyancers who are subject to the complaint) and complaint handlers (OSS, Bar Council and Council for Licensed Conveyancers).

Lawyers and enquirers, the research shows, are generally satisfied with the OLSO.

Abraham says the OLSO has already revised its information leaflet and introduced new systems to keep people better informed.

She adds: “Of course, the ombudsman is the final stage in a lengthy process – and often, by the time an unhappy client reaches my office, positions become entrenched. The only real solution to the problem of dissatisfaction with lawyers, lies with lawyers themselves.”

The Consumer Association's head of legal affairs, Ashley Holmes says: “I don't find these findings surprising. For people pursuing complaints it can be an uphill struggle and they are worn down before they even get to the ombudsman.

“We have always said that the problem is that not enough solicitors are sorting out complaints in the first place.”