Our approach to investigations

Our role at the Legal Ombudsman is to resolve complaints in a way that is fair and reasonable. We don’t take sides, or make assumptions about who might be right or wrong.

We aim to resolve complaints quickly and simply. We will try to reach an agreement between you and the complainant about whether anything should be done to put things right. However, we also have formal powers to put things right.

Throughout our investigation, we will look for opportunities to resolve the complaint by finding a solution that you and the complainant can agree to. Our investigator will listen to both sides, look at the facts and the evidence and explain their view. If the investigator thinks the service you provided was of a reasonable standard, they will explain why.

Similarly, if they think the service complained about was not reasonable – and that it has had a negative impact or caused the complainant a financial loss – they will explain what should be done to put things right. In some cases, they may suggest a way of resolving the complaint which involves both sides in a bit of give and take.
It can be quicker to sort out a problem if everyone agrees what the solution needs to be.

If they think that the service provided was not reasonable and something needs to be put right, they can recommend that you do any of the following things:

  • Apologise to the complainant
  • Give back any documents the complainant might need
  • Do more work for the complainant, if this will put right what went wrong
  • Refund or reduce fees; or
  • Pay compensation if the complainant has lost out or been badly treated. Most of our awards are under £500, though we can direct compensation up to £50,000. Usually higher awards are limited to those cases where we have seen evidence that poor service has caused a direct financial loss.
  • Any remedy will always be based on the individual circumstances of the complaint and the impact of any poor service on the complainant.

You may find the following guidance useful:

Co-operating with the Legal Ombudsman

There is an obligation on you to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman. It may help if you appoint one person to be the point of contact throughout our investigation. This will avoid correspondence going unanswered and deadlines being missed, but it will also help you to build a relationship with the investigator responsible for the complaint.
We encourage you to remain objective and open to resolving the complaint throughout the investigation.

Providing evidence

Please retrieve your complaint file and any other information or documentation you relied on in responding to the complaint. The investigator will ask both you and the complainant to provide us with documentary evidence.
Please only provide us with the documents we ask for. Do not send your entire file unless we specifically ask you to.

Please only send us copies of documents: do not send us original documents unless we request them because our correspondence is destroyed after being scanned. If we ask you for originals we will keep them safe and return them once the complaint has been resolved or closed.

Under the Legal Services Act 2007, service providers have a professional obligation to co-operate with us. We advise the complainant that relevant information will be shared between parties. This includes the documents and papers that service providers hold. We are not required to obtain written permission from the complainant for service providers to release papers to us.

What if an agreement can’t be reached?

Our aim is to resolve complaints by agreement. If an agreement can’t be reached the investigator will set out their views in writing. This is called a case decision. If the investigator identifies poor service that has had a negative effect for the complainant, they may propose a remedy or action you should take.
If either you or the complainant don’t accept what our investigator says, either of you can request an ombudsman’s decision.

An ombudsman will then review the case decision, as well as the information and comments that you and the complainant provided. They will make a final decision about the complaint. The ombudsman is not bound in any way to follow the case decision.

After an ombudsman has made a final decision, we will ask the complainant if they accept it. If they do, it will be final and binding on you. There will be no further way of challenging it with us. This also means the complainant won’t be able to have the same complaint looked at again. Accepting an ombudsman’s final decision also stops the complainant from taking any legal action in relation to the same complaint.

If the complainant rejects the final decision or doesn’t tell us what they think about it, you are not obliged to comply with it. In these circumstances, the case will be closed and we will not take any further action. The complainant would be free to make any other claim in relation to their complaint or seek independent legal advice. They will not be able to bring the same complaint back to us.
Once a final decision has been made, our investigation of the complaint is over.

How long will it take us to look at a complaint?

We aim to resolve complaints within three months of the date the complainant confirmed the details of the complaint with us. However, if a final decision is required or we need more information, it could take longer.
We aim to investigate complaints efficiently and if documentation is sent promptly this will prevent delays. We will keep you updated in relation to any other delays that might occur.

Do you ever end an investigation for any reason?

If we receive further information during an investigation which shows we can’t or shouldn’t look at the complaint under our rules, we may decide to stop the investigation and close the case. For example, this could be because it is discovered that the complaint actually falls outside of our time limits.

Will I be charged a case fee?

The Legal Services Act 2007 requires the Legal Ombudsman to set charges for complaints we accept. We have set this charge at £400 per case. A case is chargeable when we accept it for investigation.

Where a case that we investigate turns out not to be within our jurisdiction, then no case fee will be charged, nor will a fee be charged if the case is dismissed or discontinued under paragraph 5.7 of our rules.

Do you always charge a case fee?

No. There are some circumstances where we will waive the case fee. These are where the complaint was:

A. withdrawn or abandoned by the complainant during the course of the investigation; or

B. settled, resolved or determined in favour of the service provider; and

C. we are also satisfied that the service provider took all reasonable steps under their complaints procedure to try to resolve the complaint.

How do we decide whether or not to waive the case fee?
The decision to waive a case fee is made when the case is closed. Where the case is abandoned or withdrawn, or we find either that the service provided to the complainant was of a reasonable standard, or that the service provider had already made a reasonable offer before we became involved, we will waive the

Publishing ombudsman decisions

We publish data about all cases that require an ombudsman’s final decision on our website. This includes the name of the service provider, the decision of the ombudsman and the area of service provided. We do this in line with the powers given to the Office for Legal Complaints (the Board of the Legal Ombudsman) under the Legal Services Act 2007.

How long does the information about a service provider stay on the website?
The information about an individual case stays on the page for a year.

How often do you update the data you publish?
Every three months we publish new data of our cases that have resolved by way of a final decision.

What if I am unhappy with the service provided by the Legal Ombudsman?

Please tell us as soon as possible if you are unhappy with the service we have provided. An example of this might be that we have not kept you informed or not explained things properly to you. However, you cannot complain about the investigator’s view, case decision or about any final decision that we may make.In the first instance we would advise that you try and resolve your concerns with the person dealing with the case. If your concerns remain unresolved, the next step would be for your complaint to be investigated by our Customer Experience Specialist. Full details of our complaints policy can be found here.