The Ombudsman is only able to consider a complaint made if the following circumstances apply:
i. The problem, or when the consumer found out about it, happened from 6 October 2010 (rule 1.1); and,
ii. The client has referred the complaint no later than one year from the date of the act or omission being complained about, or one year from the date when the complainant should have realised that there was cause for complaint (rule 4.5); and,
iii. The consumer has referred the complaint to the Ombudsman within six months of a final response being received from the solicitor firm or barrister (rule 4.4).
The material impact these changes have on law firms includes, but is not limited to:
- A change to time limits, in that firms must inform complainants about both the six month deadline for escalating a complaint to the Ombudsman, and the new one year deadlines (see above);
- If a firm considers that all or part of a complaint made is not covered by the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction or has been made outside the limitation period, or should be dismissed, the onus rests with the firm to provide reasons for this challenge to the complaint at the earliest opportunity (rule 5.4);
- If the Ombudsman considers that a complainant has not suffered significant financial loss, distress, inconvenient or detriment, it may, but is not obliged to, dismiss or discontinue all or part of a complaint (rule 5.7(b));
- If the Ombudsman considers that a firm has offered fair and reasonable redress in relation to the circumstances alleged by the complainant prior to, or during the course of, the Ombudsman’s investigation which has been accepted or remains open for acceptance, the Ombudsman may elect to dismiss or discontinue all or part of a complaint (rule 5.7(c));
- The Ombudsman may also determine that a complaint should be fully or partially dismissed or discontinued if they consider the complaint is:
- frivolous or vexatious (rule 5.7(o));
- not a proportionate use of the Ombudsman’s time to investigate, due to the likely impact or due to the complaint’s complexity, the amount of evidence provided, or due to the conduct of the complainant during the investigation (rule 5.7(p)); or,
- not brought promptly and that there has been undue delay by the complainant in raising the complaint (rule 5.7(q)).
- There is also a discretion for the Ombudsman to decline to issue a formal decision after the investigator case decision if neither party raise any substantive objection to the findings of the case decision.
The Ombudsman is empowered to direct compensation of up to £50,000. Higher awards are usually made in circumstances where the poor service has directly contributed to direct financial loss.
It is imperative that firms continue to uphold high standards of client care. This will involve taking proactive steps to now update client communication material including client care information, terms of business and any published information on websites regarding the options available to clients for legal redress and remedy. Firms will note the increased onus and opportunities to manage such matters.