Law Society licence threatened by OFT

The law Society has been warned by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) that if it fails to improve the way it deals with the increasing number of consumer complaints, it could lose its group licence.

The warning comes soon after president-elect Michael Napier announced that the backlog of complaints was down in June by more than 6,000 on the same period last year, to 11,284.

But this has not impressed the OFT which, for the second year running, has taken the unusual step of granting a group licence for only one year with quarterly reviews, instead of the usual five years.

An OFT spokesperson says: “The society improved, but not sufficiently to warrant a five-year licence.

“At the end of that, there will either be no licence at all, or a five-year licence will be granted.”

When the society was denied the full licence last year, Jane Betts, secretary general and manager of the Office of Supervision of Solicitors, which deals with complaints, assured the profession that one year would be enough time to prove that it was “on top of it”.

Society spokesperson Cath- erine Slater is equally as confident. “We are on target to meet the Government’s figures of a backlog of 6,000 by December,” she says.

“It’s all about changing the attitude of the profession so that the client is king, and the courses we have been running all over the country have been helping to reinforce this.”

If a group licence is denied, solicitors will have to apply for individual licences without which they will be unable to engage in activities covered by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This includes credit brokerage and debt collecting services.

The OFT warns that no further one-year licences will be granted and that the quarterly reviews will ensure that the society is “finally getting its house in order”.