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Find out answers to the most commonly asked questions about the Legal Ombudsman.

1. What does the Legal Ombudsman do?

What do you do?

We investigate complaints about the service you have received from your legal service provider. For example, you might be unhappy about the service you received when you made a personal injury claim, when you bought a house or when you tried to sort out a family law issue.

In order for us to investigate your complaint, the service provider you used must be regulated. Examples of service providers we can look into are:

  • Solicitors
  • Barristers
  • Licensed conveyancers
  • Costs lawyers
  • Legal executives
  • Notaries”
What problems can you help resolve?

We investigate complaints about all sorts of areas of law, some examples are:

  • Conveyancing (buying and selling property)
  • Family Law
  • Personal Injury
  • Immigration
  • Wills and Probate
  • Criminal Law

Our investigations will look at the areas of service that you tell us you are unhappy with. This could be in respect of any number of issues, however, some examples are:

  • Communication you have received from your service provider
  • The costs you are being asked to pay

The time taken for the work to be done

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.

There may be other situations where we are not the right organisation to help and we can discuss this with you when we know more about your situation.

Please see the list of useful organisations for others that might be able to help you.

Do you have rules about the complaints you can investigate?

Yes. The Legal Services Act 2007 and our Scheme Rules set out very clear rules about the complaints we can and cannot accept.

Our Complaint Checker takes you through these questions, but if you are unsure please contact us.

We have rules about:

Who we can accept complaints from:

  • Members of the public who have a problem with their legal service provider

  • Beneficiaries of an estate

  • Charities and trusts

  • A micro-enterprise

Who we can accept complaints about:

  • Regulated legal service providers

Service providers will usually say on their website, or at the bottom of correspondence if they are regulated. If you are unsure contact us.

The type of work they do

We can look at the service they have provided. This often means problems about the way they communicated with you, the cost information you received, whether the work was done in a reasonable time, if they have followed your instructions, and if they responded to your complaint.

When the problems happened:

  • The problem or when you found out about it, happened after 5 October 2010; and
  • 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
  • You are referring your complaint to us within six months of your service provider’s final response
Do you act for complainants?

No, we provide an impartial service to all our customers – both consumers 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.

Can I bring my complaint to you if I’ve got ongoing court proceedings or I’m taking negligence action?

Bringing a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman is an alternative to pursuing court action. As such, the expectation is that you decide which route you take. We will not look at a complaint where you have ongoing court proceedings or have already had a decision from the court about the same issues which you would like us to investigate. Equally, if you have had a final decision from us, you will be unable to bring court action against the service provider about the same issues that we have looked at.

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 from your service provider, it is very unlikely that we will be able to look at your complaint. Our service is available for circumstances where you have been unable to resolve matters directly with the service provider. If you believe we should be able to investigate your complaint, even though you have already accepted a remedy, you will need to explain your reasons to us so we can make a decision about how to proceed.

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

2. Complaining to my legal service provider

What is a legal service provider?

A legal service provider can be anyone who provides a legal service. Not all are regulated.

The Legal Ombudsman can only look into complaints about 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 I need to complain to my service provider?

Our rules mean that we are only able to investigate a complaint after you have given your service provider an opportunity to deal with the complaint. A service provider is entitled to eight weeks to address your complaint and try to resolve the matter with you before we get involved. There are limited circumstances where you may be unable to complain to you service provider, for example where they have closed down, and in those cases you should contact us to progress your complaint.

When should I complain to my service provider?

You should complain as soon as you are aware there is a problem. Problems are often sorted out early on. We have time frames in which 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.

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. 

I want to complain, should I still pay the service provider’s fee?

We understand that if you are unhappy with the service you have received, you may not want to pay all or part of your service provider’s bill.

However, it is important to understand that your service provider may take court action against you to recover their fees and any investigation into your complaint by us does not prevent this. As such, you may wish to pay the fees but let the service provider know you are unhappy about doing so. We can still investigate any complaints you have about the service you have received, even if you have paid the fees.

My provider’s firm has closed down, what do I do?

We are able to investigate complaints about service providers who may have closed down or are no longer practicing for whatever reason. However, it can make our investigation more difficult in some cases and as such, if you wish to make a complaint about a closed service provider, you should make contact with our General Enquiries Team who will be able to assist.

Do you expect service providers to tell clients about the Ombudsman?

Yes. Legal Service Providers have a responsibility to tell all their clients how they can complain if they are unhappy with the service they receive. This includes telling their clients about their own complaints handling process but also telling them about the Legal Ombudsman. They have a requirement to do this which is set out in their Code of Conduct.

My service provider has asked me to attend a meeting to discuss the complaint. Do I have to go?

It is not unusual for a service provider to suggest a meeting to discuss your complaint in more detail, so if your service provider has done this, don’t be alarmed.

Sometimes it is possible to resolve complaints at these meetings, but we appreciate you may feel uncomfortable attending. If this is the case, you could always take a representative with you, for example a friend or a family member. However, if you really do not wish to attend you can let your service provider know this and ask them to respond to your complaint in writing. There is no requirement that you attend a meeting suggested by the service provider to discuss your complaint.

If you decide not to attend the meeting, we would still expect the service provider to conclude their complaint handling process and inform you of the outcome.

What if my service provider wants more than eight weeks to sort out my complaint?

If your service provider has asked for more time to sort out your complaint and you are happy with this, just let them know and try to reach an agreement about when they will provide their final response. However, 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. 

3. Bringing a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman

When can I come to the Legal Ombudsman?

Before bringing a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman, you need to give your service provider an opportunity to deal with your complaint under their own complaints handling process. Service providers have a period of eight weeks to respond to your complaint. If they haven’t responded within eight weeks of your complaint to them, you can bring your complaint to us.

If the service provider has responded within eight weeks, you can bring your complaint to us once your service provider has made it clear that they have issued their final response.

It is really important to be aware that you must bring your complaint to us within six months of the date of the service provider’s final response. We have strict time limits and if you fail to do so, it is unlikely that we will be able to investigate your complaint.

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 our 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. 

Are there situations where you may decide not to investigate a complaint?

Yes. The Legal Ombudsman is not always best placed to deal with all of the complaints that get raised with us. It is important that where we are unable to address the whole, or part, of your complaint we tell you as early on as possible.

There are a number of reasons why we may decide not to investigate a complaint and this will depend upon the specific circumstances of your case. However, here are some examples:

  • We may decide that the complaint raised includes complex legal matters that are best decided by a court;
  • We may decide that the service provider has already made an offer to resolve the complaint, that is still open for acceptance, which is more than we would award even if we concluded in your favour;
  • We may decide that you have not suffered (and are unlikely to suffer) any financial loss, distress, inconvenience or other detriment as a result of the complaint; or

We may decide that that the issues you are complaining about have already been addressed by a previous investigation with this office or through the courts.

Is there a charge for your service?

Our service is free to consumers and you can bring a complaint to us yourself.

How will you look after the information I provide?

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.

4. The Legal Ombudsman investigation process

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.

How long does an investigation take?

Once your case has been assessed as something the Legal Ombudsman can look at, it will be passed to an investigator to begin the investigation.

We complete most 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.

In the first instance one of our investigators will deal with your case. Your case will only escalate to an ombudsman if it proves hard to resolve.

In what situations do we decide not to investigate a case?

When we begin working on your complaint we’ll check whether there is a way for us to remedy a complaint or not. Sometimes a case is so complex it needs to be decided by a court.

Sometimes the amount the provider needs to make in recompense is more than we are allowed to award.

Sometimes we might decide that we can’t offer more than the amount offered by your service provider.

What if we can’t agree about how to resolve my complaint?

If there is no agreed outcome 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 case decision. Both parties have a chance to tell us what they think about the decision.

  • If both parties agree with the case decision then the complaint is resolved;
  • If anyone disagrees then the case will be forwarded to an ombudsman;
  • If nobody responds to the case decision then we will treat the complaint as resolved

5. For legal service providers

Do you expect service providers to tell clients about the Ombudsman?

YYes. Legal Service Providers have a responsibility to tell all their clients how they can complain if they are unhappy with the service they receive. This includes telling their clients about their own complaints handling process but also telling them about the Legal Ombudsman. They have a requirement to do this which is set out in their Code of Conduct.

How long does an investigation take?

Once your case has been assessed as something the Legal Ombudsman can look at, it will be passed to an investigator to begin the investigation.

We complete most 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.

In the first instance one of our investigators will deal with your case. Your case will only escalate to an ombudsman if it proves hard to resolve.

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.

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.

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.