Updated guidance on complaints about costs

No one likes paying more for something than they expected to – and legal services are no exception. Around one in every ten complaints referred to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) centre on the amount consumers have been asked to pay legal providers. Unhappiness with costs also feature in many more complaints – in particular, those about service providers’ standard of communication, where the lack, or quality, of information about costs may be a factor.

LeO’s position on these complaints has three key principles:

  • A client should never be surprised by the bill they receive from their lawyer;
  • If you intend – now or in the future – to charge your client for something, you should tell the client clearly, as soon as you reasonably can; and
  • Keep clear and accurate records of all the cost information you provide, including any confirmation from the client that they understand what they will be charged.

This approach hasn’t changed since we first published guidance on costs complaints nearly a decade ago. However, a number of recent high-profile court cases have put a spotlight on the issue of costs. In light of this – and while our approach remains the same –  we’ve reviewed and added to our guidance, to help give even greater clarity about what, in our experience, represents good service when it comes to engaging with clients around costs.

The quality of cost information is especially important given that many people who engage with legal services are – as part of what’s giving rise to their legal need – experiencing stressful and difficult situations. Understandably, their focus will often be on other things; their circumstances may well mean they could be considered vulnerable, even if only temporarily. This has a bearing on how legal providers need to approach providing important information.

Reflecting this, our guidance is designed to help lawyers deliver a service that reflects individual clients’ needs. To help with this, it includes a range of worked examples, which provide practical insight into how we resolve complaints. We want as many complaints as possible to be avoided altogether – or, if they do arise, to be resolved without the need for us to get involved.

You can read the guidance here.

If you’re a consumer wanting to understand what to expect from a service provider you can find information here.