The Law Society has called on the Legal Ombudsman to give firms two ‘free cases’ per year, and consider exempting those acting pro bono from paying fees.
Previously the ombudsman exempted firms from having to pay fees for the first two complaints it investigates. This was abolished in April 2013. Practitioners currently have to pay £400 per case.
In a response to a consultation on the LeO’s draft budget proposals for 2016-17, the Law Society said that the impact of case fees on small practitioners ‘can be considerable’. It wants the two free case fee rule reinstated, and consideration given to exemptions where work is carried out pro bono. It also said the LeO should consider whether the level of case fees should form part of its review on scheme rules.
The Society said: ‘We recognise there is a balance between maintaining the quality of decision-making and cost reduction, and we welcome the chair’s commitment to ensuring both. We would like to see the LeO look at ways it could cut costs, for instance by settling complaints at an earlier stage.’
The Law Society welcomed the news that LeO will reduce spending by £500,000 in the next financial year to £11.7m. But it said the unit cost is still high compared to other ombudsman schemes, and that this should be reduced.
We think the Law Society has a point. Other schemes do not charge for every complaint eg Financial services. Firms should at least have a refund if there is found to be no case to answer. In the meantime, pending the review, firms can avoid the case fee by using ProMediate to deal with complaints about lawyers, as long as the client agrees. This has other advantages to using the LeO, not least the speed of the service.