Help Me, I'm Buying a House!

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Dealing with a dodgy solicitor – the Legal Ombudsman route

Is your solicitor not doing their job properly? The Legal Ombudsman might help you out.

Overview

When is this relevant for you?

If you have engaged a solicitor and you are unhappy with how they are working, you can do something about it. In chapter 3 and 8 of the book we already looked at solicitors in detail and gave some pointers where to start if you need to deal with poor quality of work. This post is an extension to shed more light onto the process. So if you are unhappy with the solicitor, read on. Support from the Legal Ombudsman is free.

By the way, you can complain about poor work after completion. So if your sale can go through despite screw-ups and you are happy to proceed, know that you can get money for false charges etc back at a later date. You don’t have to stop and wait for the process. If of course your solicitor is endangering the soundness of the purchase or your financial situation, get advice pronto and don’t sign anything that might cause you problems.

Legal Ombudsman vs. Solicitors Regulation Authority

Depending on your issues, you may need the Legal Ombudsman or the Solicitors Regulation Authority to help you out (also check here: https://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/problems).

The Legal Ombudsman helps with:

  • work the solicitor did
  • your bill

The Solicitors Regulation Authority helps with:

  • lies from your solicitor
  • your solicitor stealing from you
  • your solicitor shutting down without telling you
  • your solicitor breaking the SRA’s rules.

In this post, we look at issues that the Legal Ombudsman can help with.

Which solicitors does this post apply to?

Your solicitor has to be regulated by the Legal Ombudsman to use their services to resolve your complaint. Hence when you choose a solicitor, make sure they are.

The steps for a complaint

Resolving issues with your solicitor might be easy by just having a chat with them, or hard and require you to bring in regulatory authority. Either way, keep a record of everything that you are unhappy with. You will be asked to provide evidence for your claims. If your solicitor lied down the phone and you don’t have an email, that doesn’t count. If your solicitor confused your documents but you didn’t write to them to inform them and there is no trail, that doesn’t count. Take screenshots, export emails, send follow-up emails summarising your points and request acknowledgement. The more evidence you have, the easier the process will be for you.

Here are the basic steps for that journey. Be aware that in the beginning it can feel like having to wait for an eternity, but you’ll get there:

  1. Contact the solicitor whom you are directly engaging with. Explain what you are unhappy about and how you would like it to be resolved. Keep a written record – you will need this later on.
  2. If speaking to your direct solicitor doesn’t help, check the firm’s complaints procedure and follow it. You should be given information about the complaints procedure when you engage the solicitor, and it should also be published on their website. Keep a written record – you will need this later on. You need to give the firm 8 weeks to respond before you can go further.
  3. If within 8 weeks you have had no response or the response was not satisfactory, you can proceed to asking the Legal Ombudsman for help. To give you an idea, they can help with refund or reduction of fees, payment of compensation, carrying out extra work needed to put things right, apologies, giving back documents. Remember you can make a complaint up to 6 years after the issue happened. Engaging the Legal Ombudsman is again is a multi-step process:
  4. Read the guidance on how to make a complaint. Have a look especially at their fact sheet 1 to 3 here: https://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/portfolio-category/fact-sheets/.
  5. Once you are prepared, you have to log the complaint. The first step is a screening questionnaire to make sure you are eligible. You find it here: https://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/helping-the-public/make-a-complaint/
  6. If you are qualify (you previously complained, it’s been 8 weeks with no response, less than 6 years after the fact etc), you are asked to log your full complaint. Here you will be asked to provide dates and a description of the issues you are complaining about. Hence it’s so important to have kept that record.
  7. Once you submit the form, you’ll wait a few months and will receive updates on acknowledgement, checking, your case being taken on by the Ombudsman and your case then being assigned to a case worker.
  8. Your case worker will arrange for a chat and will instruct you to put together all details and evidence. Typically your case worker will prepare a memorandum of understanding summarising your case, which you can check and correct where necessary. You will then have to put together the evidence for each point agreed.
  9. Once you are working with a case worker, you are normally given 1-2 weeks to come back with requested documents. So make sure you are available and have access to your documents.
  10. Your case worker will request evidence from both parties and then decide based on evidence who is in the right and wrong, point by point. You will receive a document with the assessment and the case worker’s ‘judgement’.
  11. If you can evidence losses and these are accepted by the case worker as relevant and true, the Ombudsman will make your solicitor pay them back to you and do any other work that is required.

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