Complaints Handling Procedure
DEFINITION OF A COMPLAINT
Probably the best definition of a “complaint” is “any expression of client dissatisfaction, however it is expressed”. This means that a complaint need not include the word “complain” in it, and might be presented in writing, over the telephone or in person.
All staffs approach to complaints should be positive, as they alert the firm to problems that your clients have about your service and thereby provide an opportunity for service improvement.
The complaints process should be as open as possible (easy for the client to understand and to access) so that concerns are raised at the earliest opportunity, rather than letting them become more serious.
Where one-off advice is given, it is not necessary to provide information about how or to whom a client should complain in all instances. Instead, caseworkers should be alert to expressions of dissatisfaction (however they may be made) and offer the relevant information wherever they feel that the client may not be happy with the service (including the advice given).
SOLICITOR ORGANISATIONS AND CODE OF CONDUCT CHAPTER 1
Code of Conduct 2011 Chapter 1, the “client care” rule sets out requirements relating to Client Care and complaints handling. Although the client does not need to be advised of the entire system when given one-off advice (including police station advice and court duty solicitor advice), they must at least be advised of the name of the person with whom they should raise any problems. Compliant practice would therefore include telling the client whom to approach in the event of dissatisfaction and/or providing them with a prepared letter/leaflet containing a brief explanation, and supplementing that with a more detailed written explanation if/once a file is opened and further work is done for them.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR COMPLAINTS
In the first instance, clients are advised to send any concerns they may have with the conduct of their matter to firstname.lastname@example.org
Once sent, the client will receive an auto response email, information their comments have been collected by our firm, and will be acted upon to ensure improvement of customer service. The client is also informed that if they wish to make a formal complaint, to send their complaint in writing to our offices.
Complaints should be dealt with by the caseworker of the matter involved, with support by the relevant Supervising Partner; a complaint against a Partner should be referred to the Managing Partner; and a complaint is made against the Managing Partner should be referred to the other Partners. Additionally, when a complaint is made against a member of support staff in relation to a matter of rudeness or misconduct the matter should be dealt with by the caseworker of the matter involved, with support by the relevant Supervising Partner.
If, for whatever reasons, matters cannot be resolved, then the complaint should escalate to the Managing Partner, who has ultimate responsibility in the organization for tracking and monitoring complaints.
Note that, if future circumstances require a change of, or additional personal with ultimate responsibility for the complaint procedure within the organization, specific customer care or complaints training will be given to those who are required to deal with complaints.
IDENTIFYING AND RECORDING COMPLAINTS
All complaints, regardless of severity, must be recorded in a central file, as well as recorded on the file of papers. Please note, in order to increase ease in tracking responses to complaints, note of the complaint should be registered on the central file on receipt of the complaint (rather than when all details about the complaint are completed on resolution). Again, it is the responsibility of all staff to ensure they are aware of how to correctly identify a complaint, not solely focused on correspondence or conversations in which the word “complain” is used.
Recording complaints centrally and conducting regular (and at least annual) analysis of complaint data will enable changes to procedures to improve service even further by establishing root causes and trends and preventing further complaints.
The complaint will be categorised as to its nature, such as:
· caused frustration,
· caused financial loss,
· created delay,
· on grounds of discrimination.
Depending on how the complaint has been classified will result in who initially addressed the remedy of the complaint. This approach should ensure that more time and effort is given to more serious complaints, and that there are greater options for redress (also, possibly, that they are dealt with at a more senior level initially) than for complaints that are minor or that cannot be justified. It also allows for consistency in response or like severity and natured complaints.
ACKNOWLEDGING COMPLAINTS AND INFORMING THE CLIENT WHEN THEY WILL RECEIVE A SUBSTANTIVE RESPONSE
All formal complaints require a substantive response.
To ensure that the complaint is full investigated, the drafting of the substantive response should make reference to as many of the following areas as possible :-
i. The date of the complaint
ii. The name of the client
iii. The name of the member of staff involved
iv. A general description of the complaint
v. The date of any internal meeting and the names of those present
vi. The date the file was examined
vii. The date of any meeting with the client
viii. An indication of whether the complaint is justified
ix. The reason for the complaint
x. Details of any suggestions to resolve the complaint
xi. The date of any letter confirming details or suggestions
xii. The date of any review and the results of the review
xiii. The date of the final letter
xiv. The date the file was closed
xv. Any action to be taken internally as a result of the complaint
In addition, the complaint should be issued a Complaint Reference Number, and a copy of the above investigation and substantive response should be issued to the Managing Partner, to be included in the Central Complaints Register.
REMEDIES OPEN TO THE CLIENT
a) An apology from the firm and an assurance that it will not happen again, and that we (the firm) will try to do better;
b) A reduction in the bill;
c) Abatement of the bill in total;
d) Notification to the client of their right to complain to the Legal Complaints Service;
e) Notification to the client of their right to see another solicitor and obtain advice as to whether we (the firm) have been negligent.
ACTION AS THE RESULT OF REVIEW
Action might be directed at individuals (e.g. providing additional training in certain skills) or it might involve changes to processes and procedures (e.g. where complaints arise from what processes and procedures contain or do not contain); it might even involve considering expanding the service (e.g. where complaints arise from having to be signposted for certain advice). In extreme cases, where a complaint against a member is staff is justified, corrective action may result in a formal warning or even dismissal.
Effective and positive complaint handling is an important aspect of client care and service quality. Action following review might, therefore, also be to improve the complaints procedure or training in complaints handling, as the way in which complaints have been handled should form as much part of the review as the issues that have been their subject.
Any complaint that is not satisfied may be reported to the Legal Ombudsman, PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton, WV1 9WJ. Any complaint to the Legal Ombudsman has to be made within a period of six months of our final response and the original issue resulting in a complaint must have happened since 6th October 2010 - however, if the issue is more than 3 years ago then within 3 years of which it was made aware.
ANNUAL REVIEW OF COMPLAINTS
At a formal partners' meeting, and at least once every year, the Managing Partner will review all formal complaints with the other partners so they are aware of these complaints and any new policy arising from them can be discussed and, if necessary, implemented after that meeting. Also, at the same meeting the partners will have the opportunity of discussing any complaint made in respect of the Managing Partner, and again, any appropriate action arising from the same can be taken.