FAQs

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About us

  • Is there a charge for your service?
    Our service is free to consumers and you can bring a complaint to us yourself.
  • What do you do?
    The Legal Ombudsman investigates lots of different types of legal service problems if you have been unable to resolve the problem with your service provider; for instance, if you’ve had poor service when: you bought or sold a house; made a personal injury claim; or tried to sort out a family issue.

    We can look into complaints about all sorts of legal service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services. Regulated legal service providers should tell you about the Legal Ombudsman, which is one way to tell if their service can be investigated by us.
  • What problems can you help resolve?
    We can investigate lots of different types of legal service problems; for instance, if you’ve had poor service when: you bought or sold a house; made a personal injury claim; or tried to sort out a family issue.

    We can look into complaints about all sorts of regulated service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services.
  • When can I bring a complaint to you?
    Once you have made a complaint to your service provider, they have up to eight weeks to respond. If you aren’t happy with their final response, or they haven’t responded within the eight weeks, you can then ask us to look at it.

    Ordinarily, you can ask us to look at your complaint if it meets ALL three of the steps below:

    1. The problem or when you found out about it, happened after 5 October 2010; and
    2. You are referring your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman within either of the following: Six years of the problem happening or three years from when you found out about it; and
    3. You are referring your complaint to us within six months of your service provider’s final response.

    If your complaint is about a legal service provided by an accountant, the problem must have happened after the date the accountant was regulated to provide legal services by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW) and not from 5 October 2010. Please contact us for more information.

    If your complaint does not meet all of these time limits we may not be able to investigate it.
  • How do you work?
    When you contact us, we will ask you to send us a copy of your complaint and copies of any responses from the service provider. You don’t need to send us more information at this stage. We just need enough to get started and will ask for more information later if we need it. Our first step is to check that we can help resolve your problem – so we will ask about you, your service provider and the timeframes to make sure we have powers to investigate your complaint. If we can’t, we will help you find the right organisation to contact. If we can investigate your problem, your case will be passed to an investigator who will look at the facts and form an independent view about what happened. Sometimes after we look at the facts we find that there was no poor service – we will explain why we think that to you. But if there is a problem, we will first try to help you and your service provider to resolve the issue quickly and informally. If that is not possible, then we have official powers to sort problems out. Your investigator will tell you their view of how things need to be resolved. We will try to help you and your service provider reach an informal resolution, but if this is not possible your investigator will write a Preliminary Decision. If needed, an ombudsman may make a decision, which, once agreed, is final and binding. We resolve most complaints in less than three months, although it can be longer if your complaint is more complex.
  • When can’t you help?
    We are unable to:
    • Provide legal advice or represent you in legal proceedings.
    • Recommend service providers or check whether a service provider is regulated.
    • Investigate complaints where you are complaining about someone else’s service provider.

    Please see our Useful Links page for other organisations that might be able to help you.
  • Important things to know about how we handle your information
    All of our calls are recorded, including calls you make to us and calls we make to you, other people and organisations. We will need to handle personal details about you which could include sensitive information. We will need to share information we consider relevant about your complaint with the service provider and firm involved and their approved regulators. We comply with data protection rules at all times. You can contact our dedicated team (infosec@legalombudsman.org.uk) for further information about this and any freedom of information requests. If you send us information in the post please do not send us original documents as we scan all post and destroy the paper copies.
  • A research company has contacted me about my experience with you. Is this legitimate?
    The Legal Ombudsman has commissioned DJS Research, an independent market research company, to conduct research with complainants and service providers. You may receive contact from DJS via email or a telephone call. Please be assured that your answers will be treated in the strictest confidence, and your feedback will go towards improving the service that the Legal Ombudsman provides.  
  • Do you just look after complainants?
    No, we provide an impartial service to all our customers – complainants and service providers alike. We don't take sides. We don't make any assumptions about who is right or wrong in any particular case. Our job is to the look at all the relevant facts in each case and, where we find there is a problem, to help everyone involved resolve things informally if at all possible.

    We provide information to many different organisations, such as the various regulators of the service providers and consumer groups. We aim to help service providers to improve their service levels and complaint handling, as well as making it easier for people to raise their complaints to their service provider.
  • What information do you share with the regulators?
    The Legal Services Act 2007 sets out specific duties for the Legal Ombudsman to share information with the front line legal regulators. We share general information about trends in complaints, similar to that we publish on the website, as well as specific information about individual cases where there may be potential issues of misconduct. We have an agreed Memoranda of Understanding in place with each of the regulators which set out how we work with them and what information we share. You can read them here. We also share certain information with the Legal Services Board (LSB) in its role as oversight regulator. The Act also sets out what we can – and can’t – share with the LSB. We do not make conduct referrals to the LSB and we do not share with them any detail about individual cases. We also have a Memorandum of Understanding in place with them which outlines how we work together.
  • How are you funded?
    We get the vast majority of our funding from the annual fee that service providers pay to their regulators.

    In certain circumstances, we also charge a case fee to the service providers we have investigated.
  • How can I contact you?
    You can contact us by telephone on 0300 555 0333, email us at enquiries@legalombudsman.org.uk, use our complaint form or write to us at PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton, WV1 9WJ. When you contact us it will help if you have:
    • The name and address of the legal service provider or firm;
    • The date you first told them about your complaint;
    • The date you first became aware of the problem; and
    • Details of their response.

Data protection

  • Important things to know about how we handle your information
    All of our calls are recorded, including calls you make to us and calls we make to you, other people and organisations. We will need to handle personal details about you which could include sensitive information. We will need to share information we consider relevant about your complaint with the service provider and firm involved and their approved regulators. We comply with data protection rules at all times. You can contact our dedicated team (infosec@legalombudsman.org.uk) for further information about this and any freedom of information requests. If you send us information in the post please do not send us original documents as we scan all post and destroy the paper copies.
  • A research company has contacted me about my experience with you. Is this legitimate?
    The Legal Ombudsman has commissioned DJS Research, an independent market research company, to conduct research with complainants and service providers. You may receive contact from DJS via email or a telephone call. Please be assured that your answers will be treated in the strictest confidence, and your feedback will go towards improving the service that the Legal Ombudsman provides.  
  • What information do you share with the regulators?
    The Legal Services Act 2007 sets out specific duties for the Legal Ombudsman to share information with the front line legal regulators. We share general information about trends in complaints, similar to that we publish on the website, as well as specific information about individual cases where there may be potential issues of misconduct. We have an agreed Memoranda of Understanding in place with each of the regulators which set out how we work with them and what information we share. You can read them here. We also share certain information with the Legal Services Board (LSB) in its role as oversight regulator. The Act also sets out what we can – and can’t – share with the LSB. We do not make conduct referrals to the LSB and we do not share with them any detail about individual cases. We also have a Memorandum of Understanding in place with them which outlines how we work together.

First tier complaints handling

  • Do you expect service providers to tell clients about the Ombudsman?
    Yes. All regulated legal service providers have a legal obligation to tell their clients (and those eligible to use our service) about accessing redress from the Ombudsman. Your regulator specifies these requirements in a Code of Conduct. The same obligation also requires you to tell your clients about your in-house complaints handling procedure.

    You can use our leaflet to signpost people to the Ombudsman and meet most of your legal obligations.

How to complain to your service provider

  • My service provider has asked me to attend a meeting to discuss the complaint. Do I have to go?
    It may help to meet and discuss the complaint with them. You could also consider taking a friend or representative with you. However, it’s not compulsory so please let your service provider know if you don’t wish to attend a meeting.
  • What if my service provider wants more than eight weeks to sort out my complaint?
    As long as you have given them up to eight weeks to sort out the problem you can bring it to us. Our first step is then to check that we can help resolve your problem – so we will ask about you, your service provider, and the timeframes to make sure we have powers to investigate your complaint. If we can’t, we will try to help you find the right organisation to contact.
  • I want to complain, should I still pay the service provider’s fee?
    Your service provider may decide to take action against you if you do not pay any outstanding fees. In order to prevent this you may wish to pay those fees; the Legal Ombudsman would still be able to investigate your complaint.
  • What is a legal service provider?
    We can look into complaints about all sorts of regulated legal service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services, such as some accountants. Regulated legal service providers should tell you about the Legal Ombudsman, which is one way to tell if their service can be investigated by us.
  • When should I complain to my service provider?
    You should complain as soon as you are aware there is a problem - don’t leave it too long. Problems are often sorted out more easily if they are dealt with early on. We have rules about when we can help to resolve a complaint, so this is another reason to contact your service provider as soon as you are aware of the problem. A service provider's final response should tell you that they have nothing further to say in their response to your complaint and, if you are still unhappy with the reply, to contact the Legal Ombudsman. If you are unhappy with their final response, come to us as soon as you can – don’t delay, as you have up to six months to bring your problem to us.
  • Who do I complain to?
    Complain to the person who handles complaints for your service provider. For example, in a solicitor’s firm there is usually someone that has the role of replying to complaints received about the different solicitors in that firm. If you don’t know their name, mark your complaint for the attention of ‘The Complaints Handling Partner’. If you have a complaint about a barrister, address it directly to him/her.

    We can’t make a complaint to your service provider on your behalf, but with your agreement, we can send them a letter to let them know that you have been in touch with us. If you haven’t already spoken to us about this, please let us know if you’d like us to send a letter to your service provider.
  • How do I make sure my service provider knows I am complaining?
    It’s best to put your complaint in writing so that you can set out clearly what you are unhappy with. Write ‘complaint’ at the top of your letter or email. Keep a copy of this and all the replies you receive. You may find it useful to use our example formal complaint letter to help you write your complaint or for tips on what to say. Please see our How to complain to your legal service provider factsheet. Make sure you tell your service provider everything that you are unhappy about because we can only look at complaints you have already made to them. If you choose to make your complaint over the telephone or during a meeting, tell your service provider that you want to complain and ask them to record this on their file. Make a note of the date, the issues you complained about, and who you spoke to. Ask for a written response. If you haven’t heard from your service provider within seven days of making your complaint, contact them to make sure they have got it and that they are going to reply to you.
  • When can I bring a complaint to you?
    Once you have made a complaint to your service provider, they have up to eight weeks to respond. If you aren’t happy with their final response, or they haven’t responded within the eight weeks, you can then ask us to look at it.

    Ordinarily, you can ask us to look at your complaint if it meets ALL three of the steps below:

    1. The problem or when you found out about it, happened after 5 October 2010; and
    2. You are referring your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman within either of the following: Six years of the problem happening or three years from when you found out about it; and
    3. You are referring your complaint to us within six months of your service provider’s final response.

    If your complaint is about a legal service provided by an accountant, the problem must have happened after the date the accountant was regulated to provide legal services by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW) and not from 5 October 2010. Please contact us for more information.

    If your complaint does not meet all of these time limits we may not be able to investigate it.

How we resolve complaints

  • What is a Preliminary Decision?
    In January 2016 we changed the name and format of Recommendation Reports to Preliminary Decisions. This new format will provide a shorter, clearer and easier to follow report for customers. If we can investigate a problem, the case will be passed to an investigator who will look at the facts and form an independent view about what happened. The investigator will explain their view of how things need to be resolved; and will try to help you and your service provider reach an informal resolution, but if this is not possible your investigator will write a Preliminary Decision. We send the decision to both parties, for them to tell us what they think. When you respond, you should focus on letting us know:
    • If any of the facts we have used are incorrect;
    • If you accept or reject the decision; and
    • If you reject the decision, briefly explain why.
    If both parties agree to the Preliminary Decision we will treat the complaint as resolved. If one or both parties disagree with our Preliminary Decision, they must let their investigator know their reasons why and confirm that they would like an ombudsman to make a final decision. If we have no response to our Preliminary Decision or if we are not told that someone disagrees with it, we’ll treat the complaint as resolved. We’ll close the case and take no further action. We don’t normally reopen cases other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • Can I withdraw from the process once I have brought a complaint to you?
    Yes. You can withdraw your complaint at any time.
  • What is a provisional decision?
    An ombudsman will look at cases if an agreement can’t be reached after a Preliminary Decision has been issued. If the ombudsman’s conclusion is significantly different to the one in the Preliminary Decision, they will make a provisional decision and notify both parties. Both parties can decide whether or not to accept the provisional decision. If both parties choose to accept it, the complaint will be closed after the remedy has been provided (if applicable). If one party, or both parties, decide not to accept the provisional decision, they can provide their comments, which will be added to the evidence that the ombudsman will review when making a formal, and final, decision.
  • How do you work?
    When you contact us, we will ask you to send us a copy of your complaint and copies of any responses from the service provider. You don’t need to send us more information at this stage. We just need enough to get started and will ask for more information later if we need it. Our first step is to check that we can help resolve your problem – so we will ask about you, your service provider and the timeframes to make sure we have powers to investigate your complaint. If we can’t, we will help you find the right organisation to contact. If we can investigate your problem, your case will be passed to an investigator who will look at the facts and form an independent view about what happened. Sometimes after we look at the facts we find that there was no poor service – we will explain why we think that to you. But if there is a problem, we will first try to help you and your service provider to resolve the issue quickly and informally. If that is not possible, then we have official powers to sort problems out. Your investigator will tell you their view of how things need to be resolved. We will try to help you and your service provider reach an informal resolution, but if this is not possible your investigator will write a Preliminary Decision. If needed, an ombudsman may make a decision, which, once agreed, is final and binding. We resolve most complaints in less than three months, although it can be longer if your complaint is more complex.
  • What if we can’t agree about how to resolve my complaint?
    If, during our investigation, there is no agreement about resolving the complaint, the investigator will write a report that sets out a brief background to the complaint. If they conclude that a poor service has been provided, the investigator will make a proposal for putting things right: this is their 'Preliminary Decision’. We send the decision to both parties, for them to tell us what they think. When you respond, you should focus on letting us know:
    • If any of the facts we have used are incorrect;
    • If you accept or reject the decision; and
    • If you reject the decision, briefly explain why.
    If both parties agree to the Preliminary Decision we will treat the complaint as resolved. If one or both parties disagree with our Preliminary Decision, they must let their investigator know their reasons why and confirm that they would like an ombudsman to make a final decision. If we have no response to our Preliminary Decision or if we are not told that someone disagrees with it, we’ll treat the complaint as resolved. We’ll close the case and take no further action. We don’t normally reopen cases other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • Can I withdraw from the process once I have brought a complaint to you?
    Yes. You can withdraw your complaint at any time.
  • What is a provisional decision?
    An ombudsman will look at cases if an agreement can’t be reached after a Preliminary Decision has been issued. If the ombudsman’s conclusion is significantly different to the one in the Preliminary Decision, they will make a provisional decision and notify both parties. Both parties can decide whether or not to accept the provisional decision. If both parties choose to accept it, the complaint will be closed after the remedy has been provided (if applicable). If one party, or both parties, decide not to accept the provisional decision, they can provide their comments, which will be added to the evidence that the ombudsman will review when making a formal, and final, decision.
  • What problems can you help resolve?
    We can investigate lots of different types of legal service problems; for instance, if you’ve had poor service when: you bought or sold a house; made a personal injury claim; or tried to sort out a family issue.

    We can look into complaints about all sorts of regulated service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services.
  • What if we can’t agree about how to resolve my complaint?
    If, during our investigation, there is no agreement about resolving the complaint, the investigator will write a report that sets out a brief background to the complaint. If they conclude that a poor service has been provided, the investigator will make a proposal for putting things right: this is their 'Preliminary Decision’. We send the decision to both parties, for them to tell us what they think. When you respond, you should focus on letting us know:
    • If any of the facts we have used are incorrect;
    • If you accept or reject the decision; and
    • If you reject the decision, briefly explain why.
    If both parties agree to the Preliminary Decision we will treat the complaint as resolved. If one or both parties disagree with our Preliminary Decision, they must let their investigator know their reasons why and confirm that they would like an ombudsman to make a final decision. If we have no response to our Preliminary Decision or if we are not told that someone disagrees with it, we’ll treat the complaint as resolved. We’ll close the case and take no further action. We don’t normally reopen cases other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • Do you expect service providers to tell clients about the Ombudsman?
    Yes. All regulated legal service providers have a legal obligation to tell their clients (and those eligible to use our service) about accessing redress from the Ombudsman. Your regulator specifies these requirements in a Code of Conduct. The same obligation also requires you to tell your clients about your in-house complaints handling procedure.

    You can use our leaflet to signpost people to the Ombudsman and meet most of your legal obligations.

Ombudsman decisions

  • What is a provisional decision?
    An ombudsman will look at cases if an agreement can’t be reached after a Preliminary Decision has been issued. If the ombudsman’s conclusion is significantly different to the one in the Preliminary Decision, they will make a provisional decision and notify both parties. Both parties can decide whether or not to accept the provisional decision. If both parties choose to accept it, the complaint will be closed after the remedy has been provided (if applicable). If one party, or both parties, decide not to accept the provisional decision, they can provide their comments, which will be added to the evidence that the ombudsman will review when making a formal, and final, decision.
  • What if we can’t agree about how to resolve my complaint?
    If, during our investigation, there is no agreement about resolving the complaint, the investigator will write a report that sets out a brief background to the complaint. If they conclude that a poor service has been provided, the investigator will make a proposal for putting things right: this is their 'Preliminary Decision’. We send the decision to both parties, for them to tell us what they think. When you respond, you should focus on letting us know:
    • If any of the facts we have used are incorrect;
    • If you accept or reject the decision; and
    • If you reject the decision, briefly explain why.
    If both parties agree to the Preliminary Decision we will treat the complaint as resolved. If one or both parties disagree with our Preliminary Decision, they must let their investigator know their reasons why and confirm that they would like an ombudsman to make a final decision. If we have no response to our Preliminary Decision or if we are not told that someone disagrees with it, we’ll treat the complaint as resolved. We’ll close the case and take no further action. We don’t normally reopen cases other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • Can I ask for an ombudsman’s decision?
    If you disagree with the investigator’s recommendation in the recommendation report, you can ask for an ombudsman’s decision. The ombudsman will review the case, including your reasons for disagreeing with the recommendation, and make a decision. The decision will be confirmed to you and the service provider in writing. An ombudsman takes a fresh look at the complaint in light of what the investigator recommends as a fair answer to the complaint and may reach a different view of what is appropriate to resolve it. The decision could be quite different from the recommendation made by your investigator, so please bear that in mind. The ombudsman’s decision may be more or less favourable to you. If we think that the service you received was poor and something needs to be put right, we can order them to do any of the following things:
    • Apologise to you
    • Give you back any documents you might need
    • Put things right if more work can correct what went wrong
    • Refund or reduce your legal fees
    • Pay compensation if you have lost out or been badly treated (most of our orders for compensation are for less than £500 but we can order up to £50,000).

Signposting

  • Do you expect service providers to tell clients about the Ombudsman?
    Yes. All regulated legal service providers have a legal obligation to tell their clients (and those eligible to use our service) about accessing redress from the Ombudsman. Your regulator specifies these requirements in a Code of Conduct. The same obligation also requires you to tell your clients about your in-house complaints handling procedure.

    You can use our leaflet to signpost people to the Ombudsman and meet most of your legal obligations.

The public

  • When will you begin investigating my complaint?
    Our general enquiries team (GET) are the first point of contact, and will do some initial work to help ensure the complaint is a matter we can investigate and that an appropriate complaint has been made to the legal service provider. We may need to ask you for further information in order to complete our assessment of whether we can investigate your complaint. Our current data shows that on average we begin investigations within two to three months. When we start our investigation, your investigator will discuss your case with you and tell you what to expect. The timescales will depend on how complex the complaint is, and whether we can agree an outcome by talking to you and your service provider. Our General Enquiries Team are happy to update you about your complaint.  

    How long will the investigation take?

    Our current data shows that we complete the majority of our investigations in 3-6 months. Straightforward cases can be resolved more quickly. More complex cases, which need specialist input or support, can take up to 12 months. A historical backlog has affected a small minority of cases where people have experienced an unusually long wait for investigation. People in this group receive regular updates on timescales for their individual cases from our team.  

    How long will I wait if I need an Ombudsman’s Final Decision?

    You may need an ombudsman to provide a final written decision on your case if it is not possible to agree an outcome between you and your legal service provider. This is the final stage of the process after investigation. Most of these decisions are completed quickly, however a small number of complex cases may take longer and specific information is given in these cases.
  • What is a Preliminary Decision?
    In January 2016 we changed the name and format of Recommendation Reports to Preliminary Decisions. This new format will provide a shorter, clearer and easier to follow report for customers. If we can investigate a problem, the case will be passed to an investigator who will look at the facts and form an independent view about what happened. The investigator will explain their view of how things need to be resolved; and will try to help you and your service provider reach an informal resolution, but if this is not possible your investigator will write a Preliminary Decision. We send the decision to both parties, for them to tell us what they think. When you respond, you should focus on letting us know:
    • If any of the facts we have used are incorrect;
    • If you accept or reject the decision; and
    • If you reject the decision, briefly explain why.
    If both parties agree to the Preliminary Decision we will treat the complaint as resolved. If one or both parties disagree with our Preliminary Decision, they must let their investigator know their reasons why and confirm that they would like an ombudsman to make a final decision. If we have no response to our Preliminary Decision or if we are not told that someone disagrees with it, we’ll treat the complaint as resolved. We’ll close the case and take no further action. We don’t normally reopen cases other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • Can I withdraw from the process once I have brought a complaint to you?
    Yes. You can withdraw your complaint at any time.
  • What is a provisional decision?
    An ombudsman will look at cases if an agreement can’t be reached after a Preliminary Decision has been issued. If the ombudsman’s conclusion is significantly different to the one in the Preliminary Decision, they will make a provisional decision and notify both parties. Both parties can decide whether or not to accept the provisional decision. If both parties choose to accept it, the complaint will be closed after the remedy has been provided (if applicable). If one party, or both parties, decide not to accept the provisional decision, they can provide their comments, which will be added to the evidence that the ombudsman will review when making a formal, and final, decision.
  • My service provider has asked me to attend a meeting to discuss the complaint. Do I have to go?
    It may help to meet and discuss the complaint with them. You could also consider taking a friend or representative with you. However, it’s not compulsory so please let your service provider know if you don’t wish to attend a meeting.
  • What if my service provider wants more than eight weeks to sort out my complaint?
    As long as you have given them up to eight weeks to sort out the problem you can bring it to us. Our first step is then to check that we can help resolve your problem – so we will ask about you, your service provider, and the timeframes to make sure we have powers to investigate your complaint. If we can’t, we will try to help you find the right organisation to contact.
  • Can I ask the Legal Ombudsman to look at my complaint if I’ve already accepted a remedy from my service provider?
    If you have already accepted a remedy the Legal Ombudsman is unable to help. We are also unable to sort out any issues that have already been looked at by the courts.
  • I want to complain, should I still pay the service provider’s fee?
    Your service provider may decide to take action against you if you do not pay any outstanding fees. In order to prevent this you may wish to pay those fees; the Legal Ombudsman would still be able to investigate your complaint.
  • Can I bring my complaint to you if I’ve got ongoing court proceedings or I’m taking negligence action?
    We wouldn’t normally look at a complaint where the consumer was suing the service provider for negligence or where the court's decision had dealt with the same circumstances as the complaint to us. On the other hand, if you bring a complaint to us and accept our decision you cannot then bring a court case against the service provider about the same set of circumstances.
  • Is there a charge for your service?
    Our service is free to consumers and you can bring a complaint to us yourself.
  • What is a legal service provider?
    We can look into complaints about all sorts of regulated legal service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services, such as some accountants. Regulated legal service providers should tell you about the Legal Ombudsman, which is one way to tell if their service can be investigated by us.
  • Do you accept complaints about accountants?
    The Institute for Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW) can authorise their members to undertake probate activities under the Legal Services Act 2007.

    Once an accountant becomes an “authorised person” for probate activities, the Legal Ombudsman has the ability to investigate a complaint when they have provided a legal service.

    There are some services provided by these accountants that will be a legal service and some that are not. Services that are likely to be considered a legal service include:
    • Undertaking probate work
    • Undertaking estate administration work
    • Advice on the application of tax law
    • Taking witness statements that will be used for litigation
    • Representing a client at a tax tribunal
    • Being instructed as an expert witness on behalf of a client

    We will accept complaints where we consider that the complaint is about a legal service.

    We will not accept complaints about services that are NOT a legal service, such as preparing business accounts, or about any service they provided before the date that they became an authorised person.
  • What is poor service?
    The types of poor service that you can ask us to investigate are varied, and might include problems such as your service provider not:
    • giving any information about their costs, or not updating the information as time goes on;
    • doing the work in the timescale it should have been done;
    • advising you about something important;
    • following the instructions to which they have agreed;
    • keeping personal or legal documents safe;
    • processing your complaint;
    • keeping you informed about the progress of the work they are doing;
    • releasing documents to you; or
    • replying to your questions or phone calls, repeatedly.

    They can also include problems such as your service provider:
    • breaching their confidentiality agreement; or
    • being involved in criminal activity.

    We will look at the evidence provided by both you and your service provider to make an independent decision about whether the service was poor or whether you received a reasonable service.
  • When should I complain to my service provider?
    You should complain as soon as you are aware there is a problem - don’t leave it too long. Problems are often sorted out more easily if they are dealt with early on. We have rules about when we can help to resolve a complaint, so this is another reason to contact your service provider as soon as you are aware of the problem. A service provider's final response should tell you that they have nothing further to say in their response to your complaint and, if you are still unhappy with the reply, to contact the Legal Ombudsman. If you are unhappy with their final response, come to us as soon as you can – don’t delay, as you have up to six months to bring your problem to us.
  • Who do I complain to?
    Complain to the person who handles complaints for your service provider. For example, in a solicitor’s firm there is usually someone that has the role of replying to complaints received about the different solicitors in that firm. If you don’t know their name, mark your complaint for the attention of ‘The Complaints Handling Partner’. If you have a complaint about a barrister, address it directly to him/her.

    We can’t make a complaint to your service provider on your behalf, but with your agreement, we can send them a letter to let them know that you have been in touch with us. If you haven’t already spoken to us about this, please let us know if you’d like us to send a letter to your service provider.
  • How do I make sure my service provider knows I am complaining?
    It’s best to put your complaint in writing so that you can set out clearly what you are unhappy with. Write ‘complaint’ at the top of your letter or email. Keep a copy of this and all the replies you receive. You may find it useful to use our example formal complaint letter to help you write your complaint or for tips on what to say. Please see our How to complain to your legal service provider factsheet. Make sure you tell your service provider everything that you are unhappy about because we can only look at complaints you have already made to them. If you choose to make your complaint over the telephone or during a meeting, tell your service provider that you want to complain and ask them to record this on their file. Make a note of the date, the issues you complained about, and who you spoke to. Ask for a written response. If you haven’t heard from your service provider within seven days of making your complaint, contact them to make sure they have got it and that they are going to reply to you.
  • What is a final response?
    After making your complaint to your service provider, they may respond in several stages. Some service providers will acknowledge your complaint and let you know when they will respond in more detail.

    Their final response should tell you that they have nothing more to add and provide you with the Legal Ombudsman details.

    If you aren’t happy with their final response, or they haven’t responded within eight weeks of your complaint to them, you can ask us to look at it.
  • What do you do?
    The Legal Ombudsman investigates lots of different types of legal service problems if you have been unable to resolve the problem with your service provider; for instance, if you’ve had poor service when: you bought or sold a house; made a personal injury claim; or tried to sort out a family issue.

    We can look into complaints about all sorts of legal service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services. Regulated legal service providers should tell you about the Legal Ombudsman, which is one way to tell if their service can be investigated by us.
  • Who can use your service?
    All members of the public that have a problem with their legal service provider can use our service.

    We prefer you come to us directly, but you can ask a friend, relative or anyone else to get in touch for you.

    You do not need to use a service provider to complain to us, but if you do, they may charge you a fee. If you want another person to act on your behalf we will need you to tell us that person has your permission to speak to us directly.

    You can also use our service if you are, or represent, any of the following: (a) A business or enterprise that was a micro-enterprise when you made a complaint to the service provider; (b) a charity with an annual income net of tax of less than £1 million when you made a complaint to the service provider; (c) a club, association or organisation, the affairs of which are managed by its members or a committee or committees of its members, that had an annual income net of tax of less than £1 million when you made a complaint to the service provider; (d) a trustee of a trust that had an asset value of less than £1 million when you made a complaint to the service provider; (e) a personal representative or a beneficiary of an estate of a person who, before he/she died, had not made the complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.
    For (e) the condition is that the services to which the complaint relates were provided by the service provider to a person:
    1. Who had subsequently died; AND
    2. had not, by his or her death, already referred the complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.

    We cannot help if you have a disagreement with another beneficiary or executor.
  • What problems can you help resolve?
    We can investigate lots of different types of legal service problems; for instance, if you’ve had poor service when: you bought or sold a house; made a personal injury claim; or tried to sort out a family issue.

    We can look into complaints about all sorts of regulated service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services.
  • When can I bring a complaint to you?
    Once you have made a complaint to your service provider, they have up to eight weeks to respond. If you aren’t happy with their final response, or they haven’t responded within the eight weeks, you can then ask us to look at it.

    Ordinarily, you can ask us to look at your complaint if it meets ALL three of the steps below:

    1. The problem or when you found out about it, happened after 5 October 2010; and
    2. You are referring your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman within either of the following: Six years of the problem happening or three years from when you found out about it; and
    3. You are referring your complaint to us within six months of your service provider’s final response.

    If your complaint is about a legal service provided by an accountant, the problem must have happened after the date the accountant was regulated to provide legal services by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW) and not from 5 October 2010. Please contact us for more information.

    If your complaint does not meet all of these time limits we may not be able to investigate it.
  • How do you work?
    When you contact us, we will ask you to send us a copy of your complaint and copies of any responses from the service provider. You don’t need to send us more information at this stage. We just need enough to get started and will ask for more information later if we need it. Our first step is to check that we can help resolve your problem – so we will ask about you, your service provider and the timeframes to make sure we have powers to investigate your complaint. If we can’t, we will help you find the right organisation to contact. If we can investigate your problem, your case will be passed to an investigator who will look at the facts and form an independent view about what happened. Sometimes after we look at the facts we find that there was no poor service – we will explain why we think that to you. But if there is a problem, we will first try to help you and your service provider to resolve the issue quickly and informally. If that is not possible, then we have official powers to sort problems out. Your investigator will tell you their view of how things need to be resolved. We will try to help you and your service provider reach an informal resolution, but if this is not possible your investigator will write a Preliminary Decision. If needed, an ombudsman may make a decision, which, once agreed, is final and binding. We resolve most complaints in less than three months, although it can be longer if your complaint is more complex.
  • What if we can’t agree about how to resolve my complaint?
    If, during our investigation, there is no agreement about resolving the complaint, the investigator will write a report that sets out a brief background to the complaint. If they conclude that a poor service has been provided, the investigator will make a proposal for putting things right: this is their 'Preliminary Decision’. We send the decision to both parties, for them to tell us what they think. When you respond, you should focus on letting us know:
    • If any of the facts we have used are incorrect;
    • If you accept or reject the decision; and
    • If you reject the decision, briefly explain why.
    If both parties agree to the Preliminary Decision we will treat the complaint as resolved. If one or both parties disagree with our Preliminary Decision, they must let their investigator know their reasons why and confirm that they would like an ombudsman to make a final decision. If we have no response to our Preliminary Decision or if we are not told that someone disagrees with it, we’ll treat the complaint as resolved. We’ll close the case and take no further action. We don’t normally reopen cases other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • When can’t you help?
    We are unable to:
    • Provide legal advice or represent you in legal proceedings.
    • Recommend service providers or check whether a service provider is regulated.
    • Investigate complaints where you are complaining about someone else’s service provider.

    Please see our Useful Links page for other organisations that might be able to help you.
  • Do you consider complaints about professional negligence?
    Our job is not to decide whether what happened amounted to professional negligence or if there has been a 'legal wrong', such as breach of trust. We don't provide legal advice and normally we can't comment on the quality of service providers' legal advice either. Our job is to consider the level of customer service from the service provider. The question for us is not whether they were negligent but whether the level of service they provided was acceptable and, if it wasn't, what the consequences were for you. Clearly, if something a service provider has done (or not done) looks like negligence it is also likely to be poor service.

    Coming to the Legal Ombudsman OR taking legal action for negligence are sometimes both remedies that could be pursued if something has gone wrong. Both options might be open to a consumer where the same set of circumstances and facts apply and the consumer must choose which of them to pursue.

    We would not normally look at a complaint where the consumer was suing the service provider for negligence or where the court's decision had dealt with the same circumstances as the complaint to us. On the other hand, if you bring a complaint to us and accept our decision you cannot then bring a court case against the service provider about the same set of circumstances.

What problems we can help to resolve

  • Can I bring my complaint to you if I’ve got ongoing court proceedings or I’m taking negligence action?
    We wouldn’t normally look at a complaint where the consumer was suing the service provider for negligence or where the court's decision had dealt with the same circumstances as the complaint to us. On the other hand, if you bring a complaint to us and accept our decision you cannot then bring a court case against the service provider about the same set of circumstances.
  • What is a legal service provider?
    We can look into complaints about all sorts of regulated legal service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services, such as some accountants. Regulated legal service providers should tell you about the Legal Ombudsman, which is one way to tell if their service can be investigated by us.
  • Do you accept complaints about accountants?
    The Institute for Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW) can authorise their members to undertake probate activities under the Legal Services Act 2007.

    Once an accountant becomes an “authorised person” for probate activities, the Legal Ombudsman has the ability to investigate a complaint when they have provided a legal service.

    There are some services provided by these accountants that will be a legal service and some that are not. Services that are likely to be considered a legal service include:
    • Undertaking probate work
    • Undertaking estate administration work
    • Advice on the application of tax law
    • Taking witness statements that will be used for litigation
    • Representing a client at a tax tribunal
    • Being instructed as an expert witness on behalf of a client

    We will accept complaints where we consider that the complaint is about a legal service.

    We will not accept complaints about services that are NOT a legal service, such as preparing business accounts, or about any service they provided before the date that they became an authorised person.
  • What is poor service?
    The types of poor service that you can ask us to investigate are varied, and might include problems such as your service provider not:
    • giving any information about their costs, or not updating the information as time goes on;
    • doing the work in the timescale it should have been done;
    • advising you about something important;
    • following the instructions to which they have agreed;
    • keeping personal or legal documents safe;
    • processing your complaint;
    • keeping you informed about the progress of the work they are doing;
    • releasing documents to you; or
    • replying to your questions or phone calls, repeatedly.

    They can also include problems such as your service provider:
    • breaching their confidentiality agreement; or
    • being involved in criminal activity.

    We will look at the evidence provided by both you and your service provider to make an independent decision about whether the service was poor or whether you received a reasonable service.
  • What do you do?
    The Legal Ombudsman investigates lots of different types of legal service problems if you have been unable to resolve the problem with your service provider; for instance, if you’ve had poor service when: you bought or sold a house; made a personal injury claim; or tried to sort out a family issue.

    We can look into complaints about all sorts of legal service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services. Regulated legal service providers should tell you about the Legal Ombudsman, which is one way to tell if their service can be investigated by us.
  • What problems can you help resolve?
    We can investigate lots of different types of legal service problems; for instance, if you’ve had poor service when: you bought or sold a house; made a personal injury claim; or tried to sort out a family issue.

    We can look into complaints about all sorts of regulated service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services.
  • When can’t you help?
    We are unable to:
    • Provide legal advice or represent you in legal proceedings.
    • Recommend service providers or check whether a service provider is regulated.
    • Investigate complaints where you are complaining about someone else’s service provider.

    Please see our Useful Links page for other organisations that might be able to help you.
  • Do you consider complaints about professional negligence?
    Our job is not to decide whether what happened amounted to professional negligence or if there has been a 'legal wrong', such as breach of trust. We don't provide legal advice and normally we can't comment on the quality of service providers' legal advice either. Our job is to consider the level of customer service from the service provider. The question for us is not whether they were negligent but whether the level of service they provided was acceptable and, if it wasn't, what the consequences were for you. Clearly, if something a service provider has done (or not done) looks like negligence it is also likely to be poor service.

    Coming to the Legal Ombudsman OR taking legal action for negligence are sometimes both remedies that could be pursued if something has gone wrong. Both options might be open to a consumer where the same set of circumstances and facts apply and the consumer must choose which of them to pursue.

    We would not normally look at a complaint where the consumer was suing the service provider for negligence or where the court's decision had dealt with the same circumstances as the complaint to us. On the other hand, if you bring a complaint to us and accept our decision you cannot then bring a court case against the service provider about the same set of circumstances.

What to expect from the Ombudsman

  • Can I withdraw from the process once I have brought a complaint to you?
    Yes. You can withdraw your complaint at any time.
  • What is a provisional decision?
    An ombudsman will look at cases if an agreement can’t be reached after a Preliminary Decision has been issued. If the ombudsman’s conclusion is significantly different to the one in the Preliminary Decision, they will make a provisional decision and notify both parties. Both parties can decide whether or not to accept the provisional decision. If both parties choose to accept it, the complaint will be closed after the remedy has been provided (if applicable). If one party, or both parties, decide not to accept the provisional decision, they can provide their comments, which will be added to the evidence that the ombudsman will review when making a formal, and final, decision.
  • What if we can’t agree about how to resolve my complaint?
    If, during our investigation, there is no agreement about resolving the complaint, the investigator will write a report that sets out a brief background to the complaint. If they conclude that a poor service has been provided, the investigator will make a proposal for putting things right: this is their 'Preliminary Decision’. We send the decision to both parties, for them to tell us what they think. When you respond, you should focus on letting us know:
    • If any of the facts we have used are incorrect;
    • If you accept or reject the decision; and
    • If you reject the decision, briefly explain why.
    If both parties agree to the Preliminary Decision we will treat the complaint as resolved. If one or both parties disagree with our Preliminary Decision, they must let their investigator know their reasons why and confirm that they would like an ombudsman to make a final decision. If we have no response to our Preliminary Decision or if we are not told that someone disagrees with it, we’ll treat the complaint as resolved. We’ll close the case and take no further action. We don’t normally reopen cases other than in exceptional circumstances.

When will you begin investigating my complaint

  • When will you begin investigating my complaint?
    Our general enquiries team (GET) are the first point of contact, and will do some initial work to help ensure the complaint is a matter we can investigate and that an appropriate complaint has been made to the legal service provider. We may need to ask you for further information in order to complete our assessment of whether we can investigate your complaint. Our current data shows that on average we begin investigations within two to three months. When we start our investigation, your investigator will discuss your case with you and tell you what to expect. The timescales will depend on how complex the complaint is, and whether we can agree an outcome by talking to you and your service provider. Our General Enquiries Team are happy to update you about your complaint.  

    How long will the investigation take?

    Our current data shows that we complete the majority of our investigations in 3-6 months. Straightforward cases can be resolved more quickly. More complex cases, which need specialist input or support, can take up to 12 months. A historical backlog has affected a small minority of cases where people have experienced an unusually long wait for investigation. People in this group receive regular updates on timescales for their individual cases from our team.  

    How long will I wait if I need an Ombudsman’s Final Decision?

    You may need an ombudsman to provide a final written decision on your case if it is not possible to agree an outcome between you and your legal service provider. This is the final stage of the process after investigation. Most of these decisions are completed quickly, however a small number of complex cases may take longer and specific information is given in these cases.

When you can bring a complaint to us

  • Can I ask the Legal Ombudsman to look at my complaint if I’ve already accepted a remedy from my service provider?
    If you have already accepted a remedy the Legal Ombudsman is unable to help. We are also unable to sort out any issues that have already been looked at by the courts.
  • Can I bring my complaint to you if I’ve got ongoing court proceedings or I’m taking negligence action?
    We wouldn’t normally look at a complaint where the consumer was suing the service provider for negligence or where the court's decision had dealt with the same circumstances as the complaint to us. On the other hand, if you bring a complaint to us and accept our decision you cannot then bring a court case against the service provider about the same set of circumstances.
  • Is there a charge for your service?
    Our service is free to consumers and you can bring a complaint to us yourself.
  • What is poor service?
    The types of poor service that you can ask us to investigate are varied, and might include problems such as your service provider not:
    • giving any information about their costs, or not updating the information as time goes on;
    • doing the work in the timescale it should have been done;
    • advising you about something important;
    • following the instructions to which they have agreed;
    • keeping personal or legal documents safe;
    • processing your complaint;
    • keeping you informed about the progress of the work they are doing;
    • releasing documents to you; or
    • replying to your questions or phone calls, repeatedly.

    They can also include problems such as your service provider:
    • breaching their confidentiality agreement; or
    • being involved in criminal activity.

    We will look at the evidence provided by both you and your service provider to make an independent decision about whether the service was poor or whether you received a reasonable service.
  • What is a final response?
    After making your complaint to your service provider, they may respond in several stages. Some service providers will acknowledge your complaint and let you know when they will respond in more detail.

    Their final response should tell you that they have nothing more to add and provide you with the Legal Ombudsman details.

    If you aren’t happy with their final response, or they haven’t responded within eight weeks of your complaint to them, you can ask us to look at it.
  • When can I bring a complaint to you?
    Once you have made a complaint to your service provider, they have up to eight weeks to respond. If you aren’t happy with their final response, or they haven’t responded within the eight weeks, you can then ask us to look at it.

    Ordinarily, you can ask us to look at your complaint if it meets ALL three of the steps below:

    1. The problem or when you found out about it, happened after 5 October 2010; and
    2. You are referring your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman within either of the following: Six years of the problem happening or three years from when you found out about it; and
    3. You are referring your complaint to us within six months of your service provider’s final response.

    If your complaint is about a legal service provided by an accountant, the problem must have happened after the date the accountant was regulated to provide legal services by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW) and not from 5 October 2010. Please contact us for more information.

    If your complaint does not meet all of these time limits we may not be able to investigate it.

Who can use our service

  • Is there a charge for your service?
    Our service is free to consumers and you can bring a complaint to us yourself.
  • What is a legal service provider?
    We can look into complaints about all sorts of regulated legal service providers: solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers, cost lawyers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, law firms and companies providing legal services, such as some accountants. Regulated legal service providers should tell you about the Legal Ombudsman, which is one way to tell if their service can be investigated by us.
  • Who can use your service?
    All members of the public that have a problem with their legal service provider can use our service.

    We prefer you come to us directly, but you can ask a friend, relative or anyone else to get in touch for you.

    You do not need to use a service provider to complain to us, but if you do, they may charge you a fee. If you want another person to act on your behalf we will need you to tell us that person has your permission to speak to us directly.

    You can also use our service if you are, or represent, any of the following: (a) A business or enterprise that was a micro-enterprise when you made a complaint to the service provider; (b) a charity with an annual income net of tax of less than £1 million when you made a complaint to the service provider; (c) a club, association or organisation, the affairs of which are managed by its members or a committee or committees of its members, that had an annual income net of tax of less than £1 million when you made a complaint to the service provider; (d) a trustee of a trust that had an asset value of less than £1 million when you made a complaint to the service provider; (e) a personal representative or a beneficiary of an estate of a person who, before he/she died, had not made the complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.
    For (e) the condition is that the services to which the complaint relates were provided by the service provider to a person:
    1. Who had subsequently died; AND
    2. had not, by his or her death, already referred the complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.

    We cannot help if you have a disagreement with another beneficiary or executor.