In the Media

Regulators? knuckles rapped on complaints handling

PUBLISHED July 31, 2012

Tuesday 31 July 2012 by John Hyde

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is failing to comply fully with its duty to ensure complaints are properly handled, a review has found.

All legal regulators were this week ordered to improve the way they handle complaints by the Legal Services Board (LSB). In a letter to the SRA, the board said the organisation had to be more proactive in ensuring complaints are handled well by firms it regulates.

The letter referred to a confidential draft of an SRA review, which found a 'small but material rate of non-compliance with the complaints-handling requirements'. It added that this was compounded by some evidence of 'poor attitude' about complaints from consumers.

The LSB has told the SRA to target firms that present the most risk and do more to understand consumers' experience of the complaints-handling process. Concerns have also been raised with the LSB about the extent to which solicitor firms are failing to assist barristers to meet their own regulatory requirements.

The SRA and Bar Standards Board have been invited to work more closely to find ways to help their regulated communities. The LSB's concerns - set out in individual letters to all regulators - follow last week's second annual 'health check' of legal services reform by the Legal Services Consumer Panel.

LSB chief executive Chris Kenny said: 'Most regulators still have more to do in understanding the volume and nature of complaints, focusing on consumer experience of the process and, most importantly, using information about the effectiveness of complaints handling as part of their wider monitoring, supervision and enforcement activities.'

The SRA said new outcomes-focused regulation was proof that the needs of clients have been embedded into regulation.

Antony Townsend, SRA chief executive, said: 'As we stressed when we launched OFR, it puts the consumer at the heart of legal services.

'The handbook that we provide to the regulated community to guide their work provides the framework for this customer-focused approach.'