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Purpose of this statement

The Legal Ombudsman will use this policy when dealing with complaints about all firms which provide non-legal as well as legal services including alternative business structures (ABS).

The Legal Services Act 2007 (the Act) makes it clear that once a person is authorised to undertake a reserved legal activity, then any legal activity they provide (reserved or otherwise) falls under the remit of the Legal Ombudsman. Section 128 subsection (1) states:

“The respondent is within this section if, at the relevant time, the respondent was an authorised person in relation to an activity which was a reserved legal activity (whether or not the act or omission relates to a reserved legal activity).”

What is less clear in the Act is whether the Legal Ombudsman’s jurisdiction should extend to cover non-legal activities undertaken by authorised persons. In response to this ambiguity, the Legal Ombudsman has set out our policy and test for deciding whether a complaint should be dealt with by the Ombudsman in this statement.

The intention is to provide clarity about the Ombudsman’s approach given changes in the legal services market which have created conditions making it likely that businesses and other providers will offer both legal and non-legal services alongside one another. This policy applies to complaints about non-legal services being undertaken by all authorised persons. It is designed to be proportionate; taking into account the reasoning behind the Act and concerns that taking all complaints about authorised person – as set out in section 128 of the Act – could stifle the market and hinder the regulatory principles (1).

The Legal Ombudsman’s jurisdiction is set out in scheme rules (2). These rules apply to all complaints brought to the Legal Ombudsman including those referred to in this policy.

1 The regulatory principles are set out in Part 1 of the Legal Services Act 2007. These rules apply to all complaints brought to the Legal Ombudsman including those referred to in this policy.

2 The Legal Ombudsman’s scheme rules can be found here:

http://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/downloads/documents/publications/Scheme-Rules.pdf

The Legal Ombudsman’s policy and test

The Legal Ombudsman will accept complaints where we consider that the complaint is about a legal service. In determining whether a service is legal, we will have regard to the definition provided in section 164 (10) of the Act which defines a legal service (for the purposes of that section) as, “services provided by a person which consist of or include legal activities carried on by, or on behalf of, that person”.

For greater clarity, the following test has been compiled:

Is the complaint about a service which consists of or includes a legal activity as defined in Section 12 (3) of the Act? That is:

1. Is the complaint about a reserved legal activity? Or

2. does the activity complained about include one or both of the following –

i. the provision of legal advice or assistance in connection with the application of the law or the resolution of legal disputes;

ii. the provision of representation in connection with the application of the law or resolution of legal disputes?

The Legal Ombudsman will run this policy as a pilot for twelve months after which it will be reviewed, taking into consideration stakeholder views as well as operational experience.

The Legal Ombudsman will always consider what is fair and reasonable and exercise discretion on a case by case basis. It should be noted that other considerations may also be taken in to account when applying the test above.

The Legal Ombudsman’s view of what constitutes a legal service may differ to the views of approved regulators, licensing authorities and the Legal Services Board.