Our performance and improvement
We continued to closely monitor timescales in the complaint process. With the number of complaints made to us rising this year, we have worked hard to keep delays to a minimum, using our resource flexibly and bringing in additional staffing as necessary.
We have now embedded as standard practice simultaneous investigations with the Law Society of Scotland for hybrid complaints so that both bodies investigate at the same time. This brings a significant benefit for complaint parties who will see a swifter conclusion to complaints made by or about them.
We were delighted to be invited to present at the UK-wide Ombudsman Association annual conference on our work to drive efficiency and reduce complaint handling times. We have since been contacted by attendees and other complaint handling teams across the UK public sector to share our work.
Following two rounds of consultation, we introduced updated Rules on 1 April 2023. The changes are intended to support a digital and paperless focus in our operations and engagement with the profession, and to increase efficiency and clarify processes. The updated rules also include technical updates in relation to our new role as the complaints body for both licensed legal services providers and approved regulators within the ABS regime.
We reviewed our approach to quality assurance of our complaint work and implemented improvements. We contributed to a UK-wide review of quality assurance systems in ombudsmen schemes, and then, when that report was published, benchmarked our own work against the findings.
Testing new approaches
We continued an extensive programme of improvement, including testing a new electronic tool helping us assess plain English use in communications, a new app to help set up mediations quickly and efficiently, and scoping work on new data room tools to allow secure file transfer between the SLCC and law firms.
Failures to respond
We continue to see significant issues with solicitors not co-operating with our investigations. This includes not providing information and not providing their file when we make a statutory request for it because we need it to consider a complaint.
We have taken significant further action this year, including continuing to raise legal actions in the court of session to obtain files, and we saw the first example of the court holding a solicitor in contempt of court for non-compliance. While the court has made clear its concern about this issue, it remains the case that we can only address each individual instance of non-compliance in isolation.
In trying to achieve a wider culture shift in compliance, we lobbied for and welcomed the Law Society of Scotland’s introduction of a new practice rule which clarified the requirement for firms to cooperate with the SLCC. We published an open letter to the profession setting out the impact of non-compliance on complainers, on the cost of the complaints process and on public confidence in the profession.
We also identified an opportunity to use our complaints levy policy to drive compliance and we worked with the Society to consult the profession on its views. With resounding support for our proposal to ensure firms who do not comply bear more of the cost, we have now introduced an updated complaints levy policy with a top rate for non-compliance with statutory requests.
Access to confidential and privileged information
Following a case we raised, the Court of Session also clarified the requirement for firms to comply with requests for the production and delivery of documents by the SLCC, and that legally privileged material can only be shared with client consent. We continue to work with firms to reach agreement on what needs to be provided to allow us to carry out our statutory role.