ADR and complaint handling

Under section 112 of the Legal Services Act 2007, it is a requirement that you have effective procedures in place for the resolution of service and conduct complaints. Further, under the Code of Conduct (principle 3.2), you must provide for an effective first-tier complaints procedure for handling complaints from clients, covering issues relating to your professional conduct as well as the service you provide, in line with the CLSB’s guidance on complaints procedures.

The CLSB’s Guidance Note on complaints procedures sets out further information regarding its expectations from a regulatory perspective. However, when you are dealing with consumers, it is also important to ensure that your complaints procedure adheres to your consumer law obligations. While regulatory guidance is relevant to assessing the standards expected under consumer law, adhering to this guidance does not guarantee compliance with your consumer law obligations. For example, as noted above, consumer law requires you to give or make available to prospective consumer clients information about your complaint procedure before they become bound by any contract with you.

You are more likely to comply with your consumer law obligations if:

  • When establishing your internal policies and procedures, you ensure they do not have the effect of discouraging consumers from making complaints or escalating complaints where they are unsatisfied with your process. Similarly, as noted above in relation to unfair contract terms, the terms of your client care letter (or equivalent) should not have this effect either.
  • Your complaints procedure is clear and simple with as few steps as possible, facilitating the early identification and resolution of complaints.
  • You have a written complaints procedure which is easy to find, understand and use, for example:
    • it is clearly signposted (easy to find and access) on your website;
    • it is easy to navigate with the use of clear headings which are intuitive to consumers, for example reflecting the questions they are likely to have; and
    • you avoid the use of legalese and other overly complex language.
  • When you receive complaints, you adhere to your complaints procedure such that complaints are dealt with fairly and effectively, and your procedure is applied consistently.
  • You ensure that the information you provide consumers about your complaints procedure is accurate, complete, timely and not misleading. This applies throughout your dealings with consumers, whether in writing, in face-to-face discussions or on the telephone, and covers a range of information about the complaints procedure, including for example:
    • the existence of your complaints procedure;
    • how to follow the complaints procedure; and
    • when and how a consumer may escalate a complaint to the CLSB or Legal Ombudsman.
  • You ensure that any investigation of a complaint is carried out by someone who is independent of (and not the direct subject of) the concerns raised, to help avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Finally, it is important to note that under consumer law it will be the firm that is responsible for the actions of anyone acting in the firm’s name or on its behalf. Similarly, you may be responsible for anyone acting in your name or on your behalf. As it is crucial that any complaints procedure is followed in practice – it is not enough simply to have one, it is important that all relevant individuals are trained in and have a good understanding of your complaints procedure, how it works, their role and responsibility in reporting and resolving complaints raised with them, and their role in supporting people if they want to make a complaint.