The Legal Services Act 2007 empowers the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) Board to publish details of lawyers or claims management companies involved in complaints. The OLC may decide to exercise this power where an ombudsman’s decision(s) reveals a trend or set of individual circumstances that indicate it is in the public interest to do so. It is expected that publishing such information will be a rare occurrence.
A series of decisions relating to JAS Financial Advisory Services Ltd (JAS) have recently met the above criteria. The OLC Board has therefore decided to publish details of its concerns in line with our Category 1 Publishing Policy and Criteria.
Between 1 January and 30 June 2016 we accepted 92 complaints about JAS for investigation. In total we have resolved 53 complaints about JAS, 42 of which have been resolved between 1 January and 30 June 2016.
We have been advised by a number of complainants that, in the initial sales call, JAS told them that their claims would be resolved quickly, and that the upfront fee was refundable in the event that all claims were ultimately unsuccessful.
We are concerned that, by failing to adequately progress claims, JAS are delaying payment of fees where a refund may be due. As the majority of their customers pay their fees by credit card, and are expecting a swift resolution, they are being disadvantaged by additional credit card interest charges due to their claims taking longer than can be reasonably expected.
Upon reviewing the ombudsman decisions made, and cases we are currently accepting, there are several key trends:
- JAS are taking upfront fees, but failing to adequately progress claims; and
- JAS are failing to keep customers updated as to the progress of their claims.
Furthermore, we have seen a pattern of behaviour which shows that JAS are failing to respond to consumers’ complaints within an eight week period. Additionally, they are failing to comply with all of our requests for information. JAS appear to have a very inconsistent approach to co-operating with the Legal Ombudsman; in some instances providing comments to preliminary decisions and in others providing no evidence at all.
The Board have therefore decided to publish the following summary of a decision:
Mrs A (name changed to protect identity) instructed JAS Financial Advisory Services Ltd, in February 2015, in respect of four potential claims for mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). She paid an upfront fee of £495 for this service in respect of the four claims. Mrs A complained to the Legal Ombudsman that the company failed to progress her claims and that they failed to keep her updated about them.
As part of our investigation we found that JAS started the four claims for Mrs A but three were unsuccessful. JAS had advised Mrs A “if all of your claims come back with negative results, we will refund the payment you made to us.” The ombudsman was satisfied that this meant the upfront fee was refundable in certain circumstances, but it would require all four claims to be unsuccessful for this clause to be triggered, not just the three.
In respect of the remaining claim, the ombudsman was satisfied JAS had sufficient time to deal with it, although there was no evidence that the claim was ever submitted to the PPI provider. There was evidence that JAS had asked Mrs A to complete new letters of authority, which they said were needed by the PPI provider, although there was no evidence that the PPI provider ever asked for these.
The only update JAS ever provided Mrs A was in an email dated 4 June 2015, which stated “we have received your documents back … we will generally send off the requests for information within the next 7 days … when we get the results in, if you have PPI then we will submit your claim … as soon as we do we will email you and let you know.”
The ombudsman was satisfied that company failed to progress Mrs A’s final claim, and that they had failed to keep her reasonably updated. As JAS essentially abandoned Mrs A’s claim, the ombudsman determined this to have been ‘unsuccessful’, with a refund of the upfront fee being the most appropriate remedy in the circumstances.
Mrs A had also supplied evidence that she chased JAS for updates on her claim, but JAS could not provide any evidence to suggest they responded to these requests. Additionally, JAS failed to respond to Mrs A’s complaint, despite acknowledging receipt of it.
This was clearly a frustrating experience for Mrs A – she was unaware what was happening with her claim, and unable to speak to anyone about it. As such, the ombudsman also considered that a nominal sum of compensation should be awarded to reflect this frustration.
The ombudsman’s final decision was that there had been poor service, which required a remedy. JAS were directed to refund Mrs A the £495 upfront fee she paid, plus an additional £100 compensation in recognition of the impact of their poor service and to cancel any agreements they still had with Mrs A, at no cost to her.
Information for consumers
- If you have already made a complaint about JAS Financial Advisory Services Limited to the Legal Ombudsman we will continue to investigate the case as usual.
- If you haven’t complained to the Legal Ombudsman but would like to, please read our Making a Complaint section on the website to find out what steps to take. Please note, you must ensure that you’ve made a complaint to the service provider first and given them 8 weeks to respond.