Problems with the UK Legal Ombudsman
also other information, news and general blog about the LeO

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This is what Walter Merricks, the LeO Service Complaint Adjudicator says about The Legal Ombudsman in the Annual Review 2012, see also Wikipedia's view of LeO
"The service is largely confined to remedying identified over-charging or financial loss,
or awarding relatively small sums for the inconvenience caused by poor service"

This website is moving
It will take a while to move across, but no new updates will happen here from now on.
The new site has a better search facility and the chance to leave comments on articles

The new site combines with my financial ombudsman problems site

Take a look at the new site here

@ombudsman-probs twitter feed
FOS news, information, blog and links

This site is about problems at the Legal Ombudsman. My attention has been drawn to them by their refusal to investigate my complaint about a solicitor, and their subsequent point blank refusal to investigate a complaint I made about a legal ombudsman. The Leo has no procedures for investigating complaints about its own ombudsmen, see the quotation below.

"Having carefully considered your request, I am satisfied that the Legal Ombudsman does not hold either internally or externally published guidance, policy or procedures advising staff in relation to allegations that an Ombudsman has shown bias or acted unfairly." FOI question and answer

19 Oct 2014 ...
Chief Legal Ombudsman resigns...
Full story is available through the links below but it appears that travel expenses are involved in an unusual arrangement approved by the then Chair Elizabeth France, who was Chair at the time but who has now left the LeO.
Legal Futures full story
Legal Futures thinks again

04 Oct 2014 ...
LeO moves premises to save money.
It looks as if the LeO badly overestimated its office space requirements when taking its space at Baskerville House. It's dropping from 41,000 to 21,000 sq ft. at it's new premises at Edward House at Quay place. Should be quite a saving.

Story with picture

04 Oct 2014 ...
LeO to save money by starting on-line portal (for lawyers, not the public)...

Story here
LeO press release here

22 Aug 2014 ...
LeO now publishing data about decisions in an easier format

See the data here

19 Aug 2014...UPDATE !
Legal Ombudsman criticised by Bar Disciplinary Tribunal...decides to "revisit" it's internal guidance
The Bar Disciplinary Tribunal has told the Legal Ombudsman that “co-operation is a two-way process”, in a case involving a failure to share information with the lawyer who was the subject of a complaint.
The tribunal ruled that a barrister who refused to co-operate with LeO was not guilty of professional misconduct because LeO had refused to let him see documents relating to the complaint.

This must be very embarrassing for the LeO as they reported the lawyer to the Bar Standards Board in the first place. It will be interesting to see what internal guidance there is to revisit, if any !

This organisation is too big for its boots.   In my own dispute with LeO I could not get anyone to investigate my complaint about bias by the Deputy Chief Ombudsman. I eventually asked LEO (by Freedom of Information request) to publish it's guidance to staff on how to deal with a complaint about bias by an ombudsman and it turns out that no such guidance actually exists. (The Financial Ombudsman, by way of comparison, says such complaints will be handled by the normal complaints procedures.)

Legal Futures website
Another article about this in Legal Futures
Another associated story
My FOI question and LeO's answer

06 Sep 2013 ...
The LeO not taking responsibility for complaints about Claims Management Companies (yet !)

It seems that primary legislation will be required before this can be done, probably to ensure that the CMC costs are not charged to the legal profession in general.

Article with the details in LegalFutures
Law Society Gazette article

06 Sep 2013 ...
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) makes a bid to free itself from Law Society shackles

The SRA has replied to a Ministry of Justice consultation about legal services regulation. The SRA is actually part of the Law Society which is set up "to to help, protect and promote solicitors". People who have complained to the SRA about solicitors sometimes find their complaint is not acted on, and the SRA will not say what (if anything) they are doing and will not enter into any further correspondence. The SRA have a standard response to complainants which is very unhelpful. But it seems the SRA are not happy with their relationship with the Law Society. See the quotation below:

“The SRA’s experience has been that the delegation of operational independence from the Law Society has been given grudgingly and constant vigilance is required, backed up by the prospect of intervention by the Legal Services Board, in order to ensure that the SRA is able to operate independently as required by the Legal Services Act 2007". (para 8.9)

SRA Consultation in response to MoJ consultation
Comment on LegalFutures website

31 Aug 2013 ...
LeO publishes guidance for older people on choosing a lawer, but does not explain that LeO is unable to investigate complaints where a solicitor is exercising his discretion under a trust or will, both common issues for older people.

The LeO has published a guide on "Using a lawyer as you get older". Its full of useful, but includes some rather basic information. ( Explaining that it is OK to ask lawyers questions when you employ them, for instance)

But it could be more helpful in one area. The guide mentions (several times) that if there is a problem you can ask the Legal Ombudsman to help with any concerns/complaints. This is often true, but not always. One common reason older people approach lawyers is to draw up a will, and this sometimes (frequently perhaps ?) leads to the lawyer being appointed as an executor of the will.

That is all fine and dandy at the will writing stage, but problems may occur for the will's beneficiaries when the will writer has passed on and cannot help. In thisn situation the LeO may NOT be able to help sort it out because LeO is unable to investigate complaints where a solicitor is exercising his discretion under a trust or will.

How do I know this ? Well I had a complaint that a solicitor did not search properly for a missing beneficiary and gave the bequest to a charity. LeO told me that they are "unable to investigate complaints where a solicitor is exercising his discretion under a trust or will".

So take care when choosing an executor, chose someone you really trust, because they have huge authority and discretion and your beneficiaries probably won't be able to complain to the Legal Ombudsman or the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Be sure to specify exactly what should happen to a bequest if a missing beneficiary cannot be found. ( See the story immediately below for more detail on what happened).

"Using a lawyer as you get older"

31 Aug 2013 ...
Legal Ombudsman suggests using the alternative legal market means customers are unable to complain to the legal ombudsman ...  But the LeO refuses some complaints about regulated solicitors too.

LeO suggests, amongst other things, that their complaints system is available to regulated lawyers like solicitors but not to the alternative legal market. One area which it mentions is wills, but when I complained to LeO about how a Solicitor handled my Aunt's will, my complaint was brushed aside by the Legal Ombudsman as being outside their remit because the solicitor was an executor exercising his discretion.

I complained that the Solicitor had not searched properly for a missing beneficiary of the will. He had done little to search himself and delegated the search process to a tracing firm which did not provide a written report of what searches it had actually made. The firm had few resources and was not financially viable to carry out a search abroad (it has now filed to be struck off at companies house). The solicitor assumed (with no hard evidence to back it up) that the missing beneficiary could not be traced. (As an example of the depth of search carried out, I searched for the missing person's name in the phone book and found someone with the same name living near the last known address, when I asked if this person had been contacted the solicitor could not answer.) The solicitor then gave the missing person's bequest to a friendly charity, which (cosily) turned out to be the Solicitors Benevolent Association.

I complained to the Legal Ombudsman that the solicitor had acted unprofessionally by not carrying out a proper search. My complaint was assigned to Mr Gary Garland, the Deputy Chief Legal Ombudsman and presumably LeO's second most senior expert. He refused to consider the complaint as "there is no prospect of success". I was advised that the LeO is "unable to investigate complaints where a solicitor is exercising his discretion under a trust or will" so there was no point complaining to the LeO at all. The LeO also refused to investigate my complaint about the way Mr Garland handled the case. It seems the LeO have no procedures for considering a complaint of bias or unfairness against one of their ombudsmen and they have confirmed this in a Freedom of Information answer.

So its not only unregulated legal suppliers who fall outside the LeO's remit, regulated solicitors can be outside the remit too and thus avoid investigation of problems.

TIP...Take care who you appoint as executors, they can do whatever they wish, with little chance that the Legal Ombudsman or Solicitors Regulation Authority will look into any complaint that might arise out of their conduct even if your executor is a solicitor. Take care to specify what should happen to bequests if the beneficiary cannot be found, if this is left to the executors they can use their discretion, which in my case meant giving the money to a Solicitors' charity, an action which the LeO and SRA think that is acceptable. Giving away money in this way is not un-common, indeed the SRA publishes a list of charities who do accept such funds.

LeO press release
Article about this in Metro
SRA list of charities that accept bequests from missing beneficiaries (FOI request)
Freedom of Information reply by LeO about complaints against ombudsmen

31 Aug 2013 ...
Chief Ombudsman writes about the LeO's case fee structure.

This article by Adam Sampson in the Law Society Gazette, discusses whether or not case fees might be waived for some cases, and gives some explanation and examples. One interesting issue is that it seems some lawyers are just "paying off" cases if the amount involved is small, to avoid being referred to the Ombudsman. I have heard a similar situation sometimes exists at the Financial Ombudsman Service. Worth a read if you are considering bringing a case to the LeO.

Law Society Gazette article

31 Aug 2013 ...
Walter Merricks, LeO's service complaint adjudicator, gets another job.

Mr Merricks has been appointed as The British Copyright Council's Independent Code Reviewer.

He is also:
A Commissioner at the Gambling Commission
Trustee Chair at Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
A Board member at Ombudsman Services Ltd

and remains the Legal Ombudsman complaint adjudicator

Mr Merricks page on LinkedIn

31 Aug 2013 ...
Consumer protection comes at too high a price. Throwing money at consumer protection might not be the answer to recent scandals.

This is an interesting article in The Telegraph, by Richard Dyson, questions whether the host of expensive Ombudsmen in the UK is really necessary.

Article in The Telegraph

29 Jul 2013 ...
Legal Ombudsman gets less business, 10% of staff at risk of redundancy !
UPDATE 01 Aug ... and the staff don't like it... Staff Union commences tribunal claim...25 staff at risk !

“ It cannot be coincidence that our lead rep, who was building the union, is dismissed by redundancy first, then quickly afterwards the Ombudsman announces 25 further redundancies.”
Tribunal story in the Birmingham Mail (with picture of the LeO's glamourous HQ)

This story seems to partly about problems with the LeO taking over responsibility for complaints about CMCs (rather than the FOS).  It appears there is uncertainty about how LeO's costs are to be reclaimed from CMCs. Of course it may be a simple lack of demand as well as workload falls, it appears 70% of Legal Ombudsman's decisions are rejected by the complainant, hardly a vote of confidence, and there's no appeals process.

Full story at LegalFutures website
Story part 2 ,,,CMCs funding challenge
LeO Annual Review 2013 (70% rejected)

17 Jul 2013 ...
Interesting FOI request to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), LeO declined to investigate !

This very interesting case involves a Solicitor who mishandled a case and then stopped representing his client. The client could not get alternative representation and the case then became out of time. The case was the subject of a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman. The FOI request then states:
"The [LeO] explaining, the regulator could not deal with a complaint against the solicitor because legal issues were 'too complex'. and, neither the regulator nor itself could deal with complaints that, 'amount to negligence'."
The FOI request then asks whether the SRA can deal with these issues. It will be interesting to see what happens and how the SRA reply. They usually respond with a long standard letter listing what they won't do. My bet is SRA will not say whether they will investigate the issues, and if they do take action they wont tell him what it is they are doing or the outcome, nor will they contact him again or keep him informed...In other words, not much use...but let's see what they say

But what a system...where the legal ombudsman cannot deal with such a case because of its complexity and/or because it involves negligence ! (By the way, they also won't deal with anything where the solicitor is acting as a trustee, for instance as an executor). These restrictions leave large areas LeO won't touch. This may be part of the reeason the LeO Service Complaint Adjudicator says:
"The [LeO] service is largely confined to remedying identified over-charging or financial loss, or awarding relatively small sums for the inconvenience caused by poor service"

Walter Merricks, LeO Annual Review 2012

Read the full details in the original FOI request and any answers here

08 Jul 2013 ...
"Lawyers should not be afraid of complaints, complaints are rich in information about how the legal sector is performing and what people object to or feel strongly about when buying services"

Adam Samson, Chief Ombudsman in The Law Gazette

The Chief Ombudsman should practice what he preaches, the LeO IS afraid of crucially important complaints about their own ombudsmen. The Legal Ombudsman Service has no "internally or externally published guidance, policy or procedures advising staff in relation to allegations that an Ombudsman has shown bias or acted unfairly".
Basically the LeO simply won't accept complaints about bias by their own ombudsmen. To make such a complaint you have to take legal action against the LeO by means of a Judicial Review which means ordinary people can't complain. If they won't accept complaints, LeO won't learn what is really happening in their own organisation and bad practice could continue un-noticed. What a system !
See also entry below for 26 Jun 2013 describing what Leo says about complaints in its Annual Review.
FOI question and answer confirming the LeO lack of complaints procedure

08 Jul 2013 ...
It's not only the Legal Ombudsman...check out this blog about the Solicitors Regulation Authority

This is a blog from someone who was badly treated by a firm of solicitors and tried to complain to the SRA. The SRA were not interested, but after the complainant won his case against the solicitors in the high court (even though he acted without lawyers as a litigant in person) the SRA have decided they will look at it. But, as is usual at the SRA, they won't tell the complainant what they decide to do, if anything. This blog is a good read and contains some shocking stats obtained under FOI about what happens to the complaints made to the SRA about lawyers. In 2012 94% of complaints were rejected and only 0.6% were referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal where meaningful action can be taken against firms. The SRA is part of the Law Society.
Main blog with details about the case

Statistics page of the blog

26 Jun 2013 ...
What the LeO thinks of its own performance, (when nearly 70% of complainants reject LeO decisions.)

"In order for an ombudsman’s decision to be enforceable and binding on the lawyer the complainant must accept it. In nearly 70% of cases where an ombudsman makes a decision, the complainant rejects the decision. As we are confident in the independence and impartiality of our ombudsmen we believe that this can only indicate that complainant expectations regarding the value of compensation or redress often exceeds what the ombudsman considers to be required." LeO Annual Review 2013, page 47

What a complacent approach ! The LeO's ombudsmen may well be independent and impartial, but do they reach the right conclusions ?
If 70% of complainants reject the decisions it means that they have no confidence in the decisions. LeO should think hard about that.
It asks the question "What is going on at the LeO if 70% of complainants won't accept their decisions ? All that effort, expense and time and 70% reject the decision ?

26 Jun 2013 ...
What Legal Ombudsman says about complaints ( Do as I say not as I do ! )

"Feeding back learning from complaints"
"Complaints are rich in information, particularly when certain trends emerge, about how a sector is performing; what it is doing badly and where there are areas for improvement. They tell us what poor service looks like and what it is that people object to or feel strongly about when buying services. In essence, they tell us how things can be done better"
LeO Annual Review 2013

"Our research shows that a good complaints process - one that is well explained and easy to follow - can increase consumer confidence in a firm, especially when they are able to address problems that arise. It demonstrates that the firm has confidence in the service they offer and they are committed to delivering to the highest standards" Listen, Inform, Respond, A Guide to good complaints handling (aimed at lawyers)

Despite, these lofty aims and guidance for others, the Legal Ombudsman does not seem to practice what it preaches. When I wanted to complain about prejudice by an Ombudsman, my complaint was not investigated and I was told to commence a Judicial Review as LeO has no procedure for considering such complaints and no instructions to LeO staff about how to handle such a complaint. So much for learning from complaints, learning about areas for improvement, learning what poor service looks like, increasing confidence in LeO, or demonstrating that LeO has confidence in its service and is committed to the highest standards.

"Having carefully considered your request, I am satisfied that the Legal Ombudsman does not hold either internally or externally published guidance, policy or procedures advising staff in relation to allegations that an Ombudsman has shown bias or acted unfairly."
FOI answer