On 12 April 2022, the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) responded to the Legal Ombudsman Service (LeO) consultation on proposed changes to its Scheme Rules.
Rachel Cairnes, senior policy and public affairs advisor at ACSO, said "As the Scheme Rules have not been subject to a comprehensive review since 2012, it is both sensible and timely to do so now with the aim of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the ombudsman service.
"We welcome LeO's intention to continue to assess the impact of its proposed changes on consumers as the proposals progress through the consultation process. However, additional information on what this assessment will consist of its needed, as would a widening of the review to all consumers and their ability to seek redress, as opposed to only those with protected characteristics."
Cairnes said that following implementation, "LeO should commit to regularly reviewing the impact of the Scheme Rules to ensure the changes to them have not adversely affected complainants and legal service providers, its commitment to impact and insight work or driving improvements in the sector."
On the proposal to reduce the time limit for complaints to be brought to the Legal Ombudsman to one year from the act/ omission or date of awareness, ACSO agreed that it is in the consumers' best interest to bring a complaint to LeO at the earliest opportunity.
"Although the current time limits mean there are complaints that cannot be investigated easily due to the amount of time that has passed since the act or omission, the reduction [from six years to one year] is substantial and not the universal norm across the ombudsman and redress sector. Moreover, there may be multiple reasons as to why a consumer is delayed in raising a complaint with LeO, including a lack of awareness of the service."
"LeO's initial high-level review of complaints raised within the last 12 months suggests that approximately 30 per cent of complaints would have fallen outside of the time limits if set at one year. It is noted that approximations have been provided by LeO, rather than detailed analysis. A wider remit for the review would also be welcome (i.e., longer than 12 months) to understand better how many complaints are likely to be affected by the proposals.
"The examples of factors that might be considered when exercising a discretion appear sensible, although broad and therefore open to wide interpretation. Exemptions should be considered on a case-by-case basis, yet there may be inconsistencies in how they are applied across complaints. For example, it is not clear how individual case handlers will determine which consumers fall into the category of being vulnerable and therefore likely to be exempt from the one-year time limit.
"In short, additional evidence and analysis on the number of complaints that are likely to be affected by the proposed time limit would be welcome. We suggest that LeO reviews whether a less substantial reduction in the time limits (for example, a three-year limit) would have the same desired effect of reducing the number of complaints that cannot be investigated properly due to the amount of time that has passed since the act or omission that was complained about.
"Finally, LeO will need to ensure that any reduction in the time limit for bringing a complaint to the service is communicated effectively to consumers."
ACSO members can download the full submission from the members' area of our website.