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Complaining about closed service providers

This fact sheet explains how we look at complaints against service providers who are no longer open. Most of the complaints that are brought to us are about solicitors and the information here concentrates on those service providers. You will find details of other regulated service providers and what happens when they close, at the end of this factsheet.

How we deal with complaints where a service provider is closed

Our job is to look at complaints about service providers in a fair and independent way. However, it can be difficult to investigate complaints about closed firms. For example, we may not be able to get enough evidence for us to reach a fair conclusion about the level of service provided.

Before we can investigate a complaint, we need to be satisfied that the service provider has been made aware of it and has had the opportunity to respond. However, we appreciate that it can be difficult to contact closed firms, so we’ll usually accept those complaints for investigation straight away.

How do we investigate a complaint when the service provider is closed?

We will usually contact the service provider’s regulator to establish the former partners/directors last known address and (in the case of lawyers) if they are working at a different firm. Usually, we’ll then try and contact one or more of the partners/directors, to make them aware of the complaint and to ask them to provide their comments and evidence.

What if the service provider wants to try and resolve the complaint?

If the service provider tells us that they wish to be given the opportunity to try and resolve the complaint before we investigate, then under our Scheme Rules, we have to allow them to do that. We will usually take no further action at that time. However, if you aren’t able to resolve your complaint with them, you can come back to us and ask us to continue with our investigation.

Is there a successor?

Sometimes when a service provider closes, some or all of their clients’ files are transferred to another firm/company. Where the original service provideris closed, we will need to see whether there is a ‘successor’ that might be responsible for dealing with the complaint. The rules in this area are complex, but if we decide there is a‘successor’,then that firm/company will usually be responsible for dealing with the complaint and for providing any remedy that we award.

My complaint relates to a law firm that was closed down by the regulator

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) can close down solicitor’s firms if they decide it is in the clients’ interests. This is called an intervention. Where there has been an intervention, an agent is appointed by the SRA. The intervention agent may initially take possession of the firm’s files and can be a useful point of contact for us.

You may be directed to the intervention agent if your legal matter was still being dealt with by the firm at the time they closed. You would then need to ask them for your file and find an alternative legal service provider to continue with your case. If however, your legal matter had finished when the firm stopped trading, then you may be advised to ask the SRA‘s Intervention Archives department (contact details below) to try to locate your file.

Intervention Archives Unit A

Colonnade Point

Pro Logis Park

Coventry

CV6 4BX

02476 339 250

Email: interventionarchivefile@sra.org.uk

My complaint is about a legal service provider who had some of my money when they closed

When law firms close, they usually make arrangements including transferring any outstanding money belonging to their customers back to them. Sometimes, that does not happen.

The SRA manages a Compensation Fund to replace customer’s money that a solicitor’s firm has not returned to them. Claims to the Compensation Fund should be made within 12 months of when you knew or could reasonably have known about the money not being returned to you. The claim must be supported by evidence - for example, that the firm actually held the money in the first place. Where there is not enough evidence the claim  may be rejected.

Details of how to make a claim can be found on the SRA’s website.

In the event that the Compensation Fund rejects your claim, you may still be able to ask us to consider the complaint.

An ombudsman has told a service provider to pay me compensation but they have closed. How can I claim it?

An ombudsman’s final decision can be enforced in court, even when the service provider is closed. In practice, however, getting a closed service provider to pay compensation can be difficult.

If an ombudsman has made a final decision against a closed legal service provider and told them to pay you compensation,you would need to make a claim against their insurance policy (this is called indemnity insurance). We will get the insurer’s contact details for you so you can make a claim directly against them. It is then a matter for the insurer to consider the claim.However, please note that if an ombudsman has told the service provider to refund some or all of their fees, the insurers are not obliged to pay it.

All solicitors are required to have indemnity insurance. However,if it has been more than six years since they closed, you would have to make a claim to the Solicitors Indemnity Fund. We would suggest you contact the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority’s Claims Management Unit so they can provide advice on how to do that. Their contact details are:

Claims Management Unit Solicitors Regulation Authority

The Cube 199

Wharfside Street

Birmingham

B1 1RN

DX720293 BIRMINGHAM47,

or Email: claims.management@sra.org.uk

My complaint is about another kind of legal service provider–where can I go to get more information?

Bar Standards Board (BSB)

For a barrister,information on consumer protections including professional indemnity insurance can be found here: https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/using-a-barrister/what-sort-of-protection-is-in-place/

CILEx Regulation

For a Chartered Legal Executive, you can find information about how CILEx Regulation deals with closure of a firm here: https://www.cilexregulation.org.uk/consumers/entity-closure

There is also specific information about what happens when CILEx Regulation chooses to close a practice down here: https://www.cilexregulation.org.uk/entity-regulation/complaints-about-your-entity/interventions

Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC)

If you are dealing with a conveyancer, details of what will happen when a firm closes are here: https://www.clc-uk.org/consumers/closed-clc-practices/

You can also find a list of recent closures here: https://www.clc-uk.org/reporting/recent-practice-closures/

Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg)

For a trademark attorney or patent attorney, information on the action taken in general by the regulator can be found here, including a link to their compensation scheme: https://ipreg.org.uk/public/what-to-do-when-things-go-wrong/how-we-can-help/what-kinds-of-complaints-do-we-deal-with/

More details on their enforcement policy can be found here: http://ipreg.org.uk/wp-content/files/2012/07/Complaints-handling-and-enforcement-policy-May-2018.pdf

Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CSLB)

Information on a range of issues to do with how costs lawyers are regulated is posted here: https://clsb.info/rules-regulations/guidance-notes/

More particularly, information about required insurance levels is here: https://www.clsb.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Insurance_22_4_14_V2.pdf

The Faculty Office

Information about disciplinary action taken against notaries and availability of compensation can be found here.

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

In the case of an ICAEW accountant, details of their compensation scheme for members of the public who have incurred a financial loss is posted here

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

General regulatory standards for ACCA accountants are here.

Details of legal ownership of files, including in instances of firms going out of practice can be found here.

Please contact us if you would like further advice on making a complaint about a service provider that has closed.

Things to think about at the outset

If a service provider is closed, it can be difficult for us to investigate complaints about them. Some of the problems include:

Can we obtain enough information? If we are unable to get enough evidence, then we may decide we are unable to carry out a fair investigation. If this is the case, we will explain it to you.

Can we enforce payment of compensation against a closed firm? This can be difficult. It is important to understand that, even if we make a decision, there are no guarantees of you receiving payment of any compensation. Our decision can been forced inthe courts but if the service provider no longer exists, this may not always be practical. We always aim, wherever possible, to fully investigate every complaint we accept. However, complaints against closed firms do raise particular problems that mean you may not be able to get what you are looking for, even if we make a final decision.

How to contact us

Website: www.legalombudsman.org.uk

Email for complaints about legal service providers: enquiries@legalombudsman.org.uk

Postal address relating to complaints about legal service providers:

PO Box 6806,

Wolverhampton,

WV1 9WJ

If you need information in another language, large print, Braille or on audio CD then please let us know when contacting.

Important things to know about how we handle your information

Visit our website to find out how we use your personal data.

We take information rights and your privacy very seriously. For further information on Data Protection & Freedom of Information contact the Information Rights & Security Team at infosec@legalombudsman.org.uk

Please do not send us original documents unless we ask you to. If we do ask you to send us original documents, we will keep them safe and return them to you.