This month, I want to talk about our Technical Advice service. We are committed to being accessible to our stakeholders, so we decided to set up a dedicated email address firstname.lastname@example.org in November 2021 for service providers to contact us to obtain advice and guidance on a range of issues relating to complaints, complaints handling and our Scheme generally. Since the service was launched, we have addressed over 100 queries from service providers, and received some interesting questions both about specific complaints and our scheme generally.
We aim to reply to all queries within five working days. Service providers do not therefore need to worry that it will slow down their own complaints handling if they decide to use the Advice Line in relation to a specific complaint.
In addition to providing support and guidance to service providers, Technical Advice also assists us in providing tailored feedback, learning and insight to the legal sector, to help service providers improve their customer service and complaint handling. We see a wide range of enquiries that share common themes, and we use this information to provide guidance to drive improvements in the sector.
The most common type of question we see in Technical Advice relates to service providers’ specific complaints. They are often keen to understand whether we would uphold the complaint, and we are also often asked for advice on how a service provider can put a specific issue right.
We offer general advice which may help to resolve issues early on, and in some cases avoid matters being escalated to us. All advice is based on the information provided in the query, and we must be clear that it does not represent any formal ombudsman determination of the service the service provider has provided to their client.
An example of this type of query was provided by a firm of solicitors who had acted at very short notice for a client who wanted to appeal a court order. They agreed to make the application in circumstances where the client has approached them just three days before the deadline. The firm completed the work and then sent a bill for their services. Their client then complained that the firm had not sent her a client care letter setting out their terms of business.
The firm contacted us to say that they had upheld the complaint and offered the client a reduction of £100 to resolve the matter. They asked whether we would uphold the complaint and if so, whether the £100 offered was reasonable in the circumstances.
Our advice was that we always consider the circumstances surrounding a complaint, and in this case the firm were instructed at short notice and commenced the work straight away to ensure the deadline was met. Although the firm had not sent a client care letter, they had confirmed their costs to their client via email before they started work.
We found this reasonable in the circumstances. We also advised that, even were we to uphold the complaint, we were also likely to find that the offer the firm made was also reasonable as it was in line with our own guidance because the impact on the client was limited and short lived.
We also often receive requests to review service providers’ Complaints Handling Procedures. We are always happy to do so and provide any tips and advice on how the procedure can be improved. We received a typical example of this recently, when we were contacted by a lawyer who was setting up her own practice and wanted to ensure that her intended procedure was fit for purpose.
The procedure was fine except it sought to expressly exclude any complaint brought by a representative on behalf of her client. The lawyer explained her reason for this – she was concerned about potential fishing exercises from other lawyers signing up her clients and then raising service complaints against her as a precursor to a professional negligence claim.
Our advice was that there may be valid reasons why someone who wants to complaint feels unable to do so themselves and needs help, and we can and do accept complainants from representatives.
We could not therefore agree that it was appropriate to exclude complaints from representatives from the procedure. We did however advise the lawyer to obtain a form of authority from the complainant giving authority for the representative to act for them if she was concerned that her client did not know about the complaint and did not want to complain.
Like many service providers who have used Technical Advice, the lawyer expressed gratitude for the advice we provided, telling us how useful it was, and confirmed that she accepted our advice and made the necessary changes to her procedure.
We are always keen to help and therefore, if you have any issues or queries you want to raise with us, just contact us at email@example.com and we will do what we can to help. In recent months we have received several queries relating to our new Scheme Rule changes, which we are always happy to address.
We also offer a call back service for service providers who want to discuss a matter in more detail, just email us with contact details and dates and times you are available, and we will call you back to discuss your query.