- COMPLAINTS HANDLING
1.1 Although no person likes to be the subject of a complaint, nonetheless the firm is truly committed to providing a quality service to clients a response to client dissatisfaction (when it does arise) will be addressed as best as possible. The complaints handling process seeks to ensure that the firm:
- takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the dissatisfaction is addressed and resolved wherever possible;
- reassure all clients who do complain that the firm will address their concerns without delay and that all complaints are taken seriously;
- learns from experience to lessen the risk of complaints in the future.
1.2 All firms are obliged by the Code of Conduct to make a copy of their complaints procedure available on request. The existence of the policy is referred to in the firm’s client care letter along with details of the service provided by the Legal Services Ombudsman. If appropriate, the client will be referred to the policy and provided with a copy in any circumstances where the client intimates that they are unhappy with any element of our service, including bill levels or details, notwithstanding any attempts to address their concerns.
1.3 If it is necessary to take a report of a complaint, then an internal report form will be completed. Client complaints will usually involve no risk of loss to the firm or the client, but if there is any chance that the complaint could amount to circumstances that should be reported to the firm’s professional indemnity insurers then the matter will be reported to them. This provides safety to the client as well as the firm.
1.4 Reporting to the indemnity insurers may lead to a delay in correspondence. A persons making a complaint may feel that a delay means that the matter is not being addressed or being taken seriously. That is not the case. As with every policy of insurance, an insurer will wish to understand the situation before authorising action. As a result meaningful communication may stop during that period as the insurer gathers the facts.
1.5 As required by our complaints policy Stuart McIntosh will consider any complaint received in as objective a manner as possible and seek to resolve the client’s dissatisfaction. In particular he will offer to meet with the complainant when possible and suggest appropriate redress. In so doing he will also consider if a notification need to be made to the insurers and also consider if any aspect of internal quality management needs amendment. The Legal Ombudsman will expect complaints to be dealt with within eight weeks in normal circumstances.
- COMPLAINTS REVIEW
2.1 Records of all complaints are kept along with records of the actions taken on them. A review of all complaints records is conducted in September of each year to enable compilation of a report on any trends. This will form part of an annual management review which is considered by Stuart McIntosh. It is essential that lessons are learned from any complaints and that any underlying problems are addressed. In this way complaints data can be used to help to prevent future difficulties.
2.2 Training to address identified causes of complaints will be provided to the staff of the firm. If internal systems can be introduced to prevent the reoccurrence of things which have gone wrong, then these systems will be implemented.
- MAKING A COMPLAINT
3.1 A client may complain (including by expressing dissatisfaction) by any format of correspondence used by the firm. This includes email, post and fax.
By post: Four Oaks Legal Services Ltd, New Media House, Davidson Road, Lichfield, STAFFORDSHIRE WS14 9DZ
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
3.2 A complaint should be put into a form that is capable of being reproduced in hard copy. It is understood that some matters may be complicated and that areas of law and legal interpretation may be involved. However in making a complaint, a general expression of the nature of the matter will be regarded by the firm as constituting the start of a complaints procedure.
3.3 As the firm is a very small firm, it will in most cases be apparent who is subject of the complaint although if it is not obvious the identity of member of the firm subject of the complaint should be given.
3.4 A complaint should be directed to Stuart McIntosh, who is the director of the firm and is a qualified and experienced solicitor. Even if the complaint related to Stuart’s own conduct of a matter he will have ultimate responsibility for his conduct and the resolution of the matter.
3.5 Other members of staff are instructed to bring any expression of dissatisfaction by any client to Stuart’s attention by internal memo so that no complaint is ‘missed’.
3.6 NO FEES are charged or chargeable for dealing with a complaint.
- TIMETABLE FOR RESPONSE
4.1 Where a complaint is not related to any work done (or partially done) that may have been done wrongly, it will usually not be necessary to notify the firms insurers. Complaints that do not need to go to insurance will be dealt with as soon as possible. An acknowledgement that a complaint has been made will be sent within 2 working days of receipt.
4.2 An initial response to the substance of the complaint will be made once a review of the conduct complained of has been carried out. If the substance of the complaint is clear, an initial response will be provided no later than the end of the working week following the week in which the complaint was made.
4.3 The initial response may constitute an explanation, or an apology, or it may be a request for further information. If a complaint is not clearly set out and no further information is given, we will be unable to properly deal with it. Therefore if the complaint has merit it will not be capable of being resolved as the complainant and this firm would wish. This is not a satisfactory outcome and the firm would prefer that matters were not left unresolved. This is why further information may be requested.
4.4 Where further information is requested the firm will provide an initial response to the complaint by the end of the working week following the week in which the extra information was provided.
4.5 An initial response may not be the ‘final’ response and the firm will consider any further communications which are received from the complainant following the initial response. These communications will be regarded as part of the information gathering process.
4.6 Once the information gathering process is finished the firm will provide a ‘Complaint Response’ to the complainant setting out its position is regarding the matters complained of.
The Complaint Response may provide or offer to provide:
- an apology
- compensation for loss suffered
- compensation for inconvenience, distress or both
- putting things right
- reducing the bill or limiting fees.
4.7 In cases where the matter is complicated by the involvement of the firm’s professional indemnity insurers, the nature and frequency of responses may be dictated by the insurers. This will unfortunately mean that there will be a longer period involved in dealing with a matter which may involve a complaint and poor or negligent work. Although resolving any matter arising from poor or negligent work may involve Court action, the substance of the Complaint will be dealt with in a period of 8 weeks from the date is was received.
- COMPLAINTS NOT RESOLVED
5.1 It is possible that the firm may not be able to reach a satisfactory conclusion of the complaint within the 8 week period. This may be for a number of reasons. It may be that the firm does not agree with the complaint or it may be that the complainant has made a complaint in which it is not clear who or what is being complained about and has then failed to provide further information. In such cases, shortly before the 8 week period expires, the firm will write to the complainant and explain why the matter is unresolved.
5.2 Usually the firm will cease direct communications on the complaint at this stage although it will respond to any outside agencies that have become involved. The firm will also not respond to a complainant or anyone acting in concert with the complainant if the complainant has been rude, abusive or aggressive towards any member of the firm.
5.3 The complainant may then involve a regulator of the legal profession called The Legal Ombudsman. The Legal Ombudsman is an independent ombudsman scheme that resolves complaints about lawyers. It was set up under the Legal Services Act 2007.
5.4 You can raise your concerns with the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The Solicitors Regulation Authority can help you if you are concerned about our behaviour. This could be for things like dishonesty, taking or losing your money or treating you unfairly because of your age, a disability or other characteristic.
- THE OMBUDSMAN’S PROCESS
6.1 The Legal Ombudsman will normally only consider a complaint after the complainant has made the complaint to the practice and the practice has failed to resolve it to the complainant’s satisfaction. The Legal Ombudsman can consider complaints about services provided by a regulated lawyer to:
- the complainant
- another authorised person who procured them on behalf of the complainant
- a personal representative or trustee, where the complainant is a beneficiary of the estate or trust
- a complainant who was offered, or refused, legal services.
6.2 Once a complaint is referred to the Legal Ombudsman, a caseworker at will investigate the complaint and make recommendations.
6.3 If the complainant and the lawyer accept these recommendations, then no further action will be taken. If either side does not agree with the recommendations, then the case can be taken to the Ombudsman for a decision. If the complainant accepts the decision then it is binding on the lawyer.
6.4 The Legal Ombudsman can order a lawyer to:
- pay a specified amount for loss suffered
- pay interest on that compensation from a specified time
- pay a specified amount for inconvenience/distress caused
- ensure that (and pay for) any specified error, omission or other deficiency is put right
- take (and pay for) any specified action in the interests of the complainant
- pay a specified amount for costs the complainant incurred in pursuing the complaint
- limit fees to a specified amount.
6.5 The Legal Ombudsman can order compensation of up to £50,000. However, this limit does not apply to awards relating to interest on compensation, costs incurred by the complainant in pursuing the complaint, the limitation of fees, and the interest on fees to be refunded. Thus the cost could be higher than £50,000. However, it should be noted that the complainants will not normally require assistance to pursue a complaint with the Legal Ombudsman and therefore awards of costs are likely to be rare.
- RISK REVIEW
7.1 A review is undertaken annually of the operation of the quality and risk system operated by the firm. This will usually occur in September each year and will comprise a review of:
- claims made and circumstances reported;
- file reviews;
- client complaints;
- client surveys.
7.2 Management Information System
In order to comply with the enhanced duty to:
- maintain records of non-compliance with professional requirements; and
- report material breaches of the SRA Handbook
the firm maintains a management information system comprising the following data:
- notifications of claims;
- risk reports;
- complaints notifications and reviews;
- file reviews; and
- client surveys.
7.3 The records are maintained in a format that enables the SRA to inspect them on request and all issues which amount to serious professional misconduct or breaches of the SRA Handbook or Authorisation Rules will be reported to the SRA by the director.