Monday 28 January 2013 by Michael Cross
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has urged the legal profession to simplify its complaints procedures, following the publication of research showing that only one in eight dissatisfied customers goes on to make a formal complaint.
Responding, the Legal Services Board (LSB) said it was making progress in this regard.
The OFT's report, Economic Research into Regulatory Restrictions in the Legal Profession, found that around one in seven of the three million people using the UK's legal profession each year are dissatisfied with the service they receive. The report attributed the low level of complaints to uncertainty about how or where to complain - and scepticism about whether complaining is worth the effort.
'Too many consumers are unhappy with the service they receive, yet are put off pursuing complaints by the complexity of the system,' Mary Starks, the OFT's senior director of services, infrastructure and public markets said.
The LSB's chief executive, Chris Kenny, described the OFT report as 'a timely reminder that much more needs to be done' but said the regulator was already moving in the direction recommended. 'We have signalled in our draft business plan for 2013/14 that we will be commencing work on the cost and complexity of regulation generally.
'We will also be looking to hold regulators to account as they move towards regulating by clear outcomes rather than elaborately detailed rules.'
The Law Society said the figures show that over 70% of legal services users are satisfied. 'In a field where proceedings are often contentious or emotional and where a satisfactory outcome is not guaranteed, that suggests a good standard,' a spokesperson said. 'We believe that it is right that consumers should complain if they are dissatisfied and support proportionate measures to ensure that they are aware of the correct procedures.'
The OFT's study is also critical of the process for authorising alternative business structures, describing it as 'slow, with only around 70 out of more than 150 applications for non-traditional legal service firms approved to date'.
It called on regulators to speed up the process for approvals and make sure no unnecessary barriers prevent businesses from entering the legal services market.
However the Law Society said that a lengthy process was inevitable given the new risks involved.