Conveyancing Complaints Procedure

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Buying or selling a house is always a stressful experience which can be made all the more difficult if you receive poor service from your solicitor or licensed conveyancing solicitor. It is a situation that nobody wants to be in but if you need to complain about a solicitor or conveyancer

In this blog post we will look at what happens if a conveyancer breaks the code of conduct, what is involved in the complaints process, and what you can do if you need to escalate a complaint to the legal ombudsman.

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What is the difference between a solicitor and a conveyancer?

Before we look at the conveyancing procedure, we will first look at the difference between a solicitor and a licensed conveyancer. During the conveyancing process, the role that solicitors and licensed conveyancers play are almost identical. It is their job to complete the legal work necessary in order to progress your house sale or purchase.

The main difference between solicitors and licensed conveyancers is the knowledge that each one possesses. A solicitor is a qualified lawyer who has excessive knowledge of a wide range of subjects, offer a full scale of legal services, and can tackle complex legal issues. They are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). A licensed conveyancer on the other hand has specialised knowledge of property but is not well-versed in other aspects of the law. They are regulated by the Council of Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).

Who do I complain to?

Whilst the idea of lodging a complaint against your solicitor or licensed conveyancer can feel like a daunting prospect, if you run into issues with them then it is up to you to contact the correct legal channels in order to get the matter resolved.

It doesn’t matter if you use a licensed conveyancer or a solicitor, they both have to adhere to a specific set of standards or codes of practice. As a consumer, you have the right to complain and if your conveyancer or solicitor is found to be in breach then they will face the consequences and you could receive compensation.

The following codes have been put into place to protect consumer rights during the conveyancing process:

  • Solicitors Regulatory Authority Code Of Practice
  • Solicitors Regulatory Authority SRA Code Of Conduct
  • Consumer Protection Regulation in Conveyancing
  • Council of Licensed Conveyancers Code of Conduct
  • Council of Licensed Conveyancers code for handling complaints

What is the complaints procedure?

If you wish to complain to your solicitor or conveyancer, then this is our guide on the process you will need to follow:

Complain directly to the firm

The first step you will need to take when complaining is to contact the legal firm directly. It is important that you make the initial complaint in-house as it gives the firm the opportunity to make amends and a chance to improve their processes or procedures. Every firm is different and will have its own way of dealing with complaints. Usually, there will be a complaints manager who is a partner of the firm and whose details you should be given at the start of the conveyancing process itself. It is their role to deal with any complaints made against the company.

It is important that you make sure that you ‘go on record’ when you complain and that you set it out in writing. The firm should aim to formally respond within 2-7 days and set out a timeline for you detailing when they will formally respond to you. This is usually within 8 weeks.

If the firm gets in touch and you are satisfied with their response then there will be no need to take the matter any further. However, if you are unsatisfied with the response given or they do not respond at all, then you will need to progress to step 2.

Escalate your complaint

Now that you have written your initial complaint, it is time to escalate this and take it to a governing body. At this stage in the complaints process, it is important to be clear on whether you used a solicitor or a conveyancing firm as this will affect who you complain to. You will also need to be clear on what your complaint is about, is it to do with customer service or your bill or is it to do with dishonesty or not abiding by legal principles or codes of conduct.

It is a good idea to try and calculate the loss you might have incurred as a result of the errors encountered.

The governing body will need the following information in order to launch a formal investigation:

  • The name of the person who was carrying out the legal work on your property
  • Which company they work for
  • The date that instruction began
  • Anything in writing that you may have that clarifies your instructions
  • All relevant information about the problem, what the issue is, and when it occurred

The governing bodies that you can complain to are The Legal Ombudsman, Council for Licensed Conveyancers, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Who is the Legal Ombudsman?

The Legal Ombudsman is an independent body free from the government and legal profession. They operate in England and Wales and are paid by legal and claims management companies.

It is the responsibility of any Ombudsman, legal or otherwise, to deal with any complaints lodged in a ‘fair and independent’ manner. They are impartial, and will independently access whether they believe that the service you received fell below standards and will then decide upon the negative impact this treatment may have had on you.

However, the Ombudsman cannot represent you in any legal proceeding, provide you with any kind of legal advice or offer help if your complaint is outside of the time limits.

They are also limited in what they can look at. The ombudsman’s service extends only as far as issues that are related to customer service and are set out in the ‘Scheme Rules’. Complaints that fall into this category include:

  • Failing to alert you to something material to the success of the transaction
  • Not advising you of all the costs you were billed for or charging excessive amounts
  • Repeated failure to return calls, emails, or letters, or not releasing documents when requested
  • Failing to keep you up to date with the progress of your sale/purchase
  • Neglecting to complete work within the promised timescales

The ombudsman will also consider cases where companies or individuals have not responded or processed the initial complaint that was made. They have also on occasion taken on cases where companies or individuals have breached confidentiality agreements or been involved in criminal activities.

If you wish to make a complaint with the ombudsman about the service you have received then you must be able to meet the following criteria:

  • The issue occurred after 5th October 2010
  • You refer the problem to the Legal Ombudsman six years after it occurred or three years when you found out about it
  • You have first been through the legal firm’s own in-house complaints procedure and report the issue to the Ombudsman within 6 months of their final response

What happens when you complain to the Ombudsman?

When you lodge a complaint with the Legal Ombudsman, they will appoint you an investigator who will listen to your experience with the firm, and then the firm’s experience with your sale or purchase. The investigator appointed to your case will have an in-depth knowledge of the standards expected and will make an impartial decision.

When raising a complaint with the property ombudsman, they aim to try to resolve your issue within three months, advise you as to why they do or don’t support your claim and explain what will need to be done in order to rectify the issue.

It does not matter whether or not the legal firm agrees with the Legal Ombudsman’s findings, the decision is binding.

What compensation can you receive?

The Ombudsman can insist upon an apology from the legal firm if they find them to be at fault, which the majority of the time is all people want from them.

However, the ombudsman can also insist that the legal firm refund you and allow you to get your money back, or reduce the price that you paid for their legal help, return any documents you may require and if the situation calls for it they can also reward up to £50,000 in compensation however most come to under £250.

Who is the SRA?

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is another governing body that sets out rules and regulations for legal firms across England and UK. Their role is to look out for consumers by ensuring that the standards set are adhered to.

Regardless of whether your solicitor is independent or part of a larger legal firm, they should belong to the SRA.

The SRA were set up in order to:

  • Close down legal firms that are in breach of the code
  • Observe legal firms
  • Lead formal investigations which could lead to disciplinary sanctions such as referring firms and solicitors to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
  • Returning any documents or monies from your casework

Much like the legal ombudsman, there are limitations to what they can do. The SRA can only investigate cases where a solicitor or legal firm has breached standards or been dishonest. You can contact the SRA by calling them on 0370 606 2555 or by email.

If your complaint is in regards to customer service, you will need to get in touch with The Legal Ombudsman.

Should your complaint be upheld by the SRA, then the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal ‘adjudicates upon alleged breaches of the rules and regulations applicable to solicitors and their firms, including The Solicitors’ Code of Conduct 2007, the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, and the SRA Principles 2011.’

This means that if the offence is serious enough they are able to close a firm down. If you have lost money as a result of a solicitor’s dishonesty, they also have a compensation fund which means that you may be eligible to get your money back.

Who is the CLC?

If you have a complaint in regards to a breach of the rules or dishonesty then you must refer to the Legal Ombudsman who will then pass your complaint to the Council of Licensed Conveyancers. The CLC is in charge of regulating specialist conveyancers and probate lawyers.

According to the CLC website, they were set up with the aim of ‘setting entry standards and regulating providers to deliver high quality, accessible legal services.’ They can do this by contacting the practice or licensed firm in order to decide what education and training is necessary to keep up with the newest laws and by checking to make sure that conveyancers have the right level of professional indemnity. They also have the right to discipline firms if necessary.

The CLC aim to formally respond within 28 days to your complaint.

What are common conveyancing complaints?

According to The Advisory, there are seven issues that commonly arise during the conveyancing process regardless of if you are buying or selling a property:

  • Legal firms offering a ‘fixed fee’ and then charging hidden extra fees on top of the already agreed price
  • Delaying the progression of the sale or purchase to the point of the transaction falling through
  • Problems around identifying property/garden boundaries
  • Bills being higher than originally agreed upon without informing the client about the increase
  • Offering a ‘no move, no fee‘deal and then still charging the client
  • Property charges remaining on the property from the previous owner
  • Failing to provide the client with adequate advice on issues that can then cause problems for the client, e.g leasehold problems

According to data from The Legal Ombudsman, more than one in four complaints (23%) is surrounding residential conveyancing, making it the most complained about area of the law. Other common complaints concern failure to advertise clients sufficiently, inability to follow instructions, delays, and poor cost information.

Each of these issues is a valid reason to complain against your legal firm. However, it is important to be sure that your solicitor or conveyancer is at fault before taking their complaint further. An example of this would be if you only commissioned for basic searches to be conducted on your property, you would need to be aware that not every bit of information about the property will be revealed. This could later down the line affect planning but it would not be the fault of your conveyancer.

On the brighter side of conveyancing complaints, The Advisory revealed that 46% of all residential conveyancing complaints are resolved informally without having to get other governing bodies involved.

How to spot an incompetent conveyancer

Spotting an incompetent lawyer is not always an easy task, however, there are often warning signs along the way that once you know what to look out for can be easy to spot.

In order to be able to spot an incompetent lawyer, we first need to look at what a work week in the life of a conveyancer looks like. Legal firms have to work backward from Friday, as this is when the majority of exchanges and completions take place. Because of this, if a house sale must be completed by Friday, they will begin the week working on those cases. If a legal firm does not achieve a date they have committed to it can be sued, especially if it is as a result of their own errors.

Once your legal firm has carried out the necessary work to complete the sale, they will then move onto carry out any exchanges that are ready to go as well as dealing with any other issues that may crop up with other progressions.

If you instruct on a Monday, the firm may not have the capacity to be able to deal with it for a full week or even longer. However, if you are using a capable company, they will be able to have your instructions processed within the first week. If you instruct with a firm and within the week have not heard anything back, this could be an early warning sign that they may not be able to handle your case.

Another sign you will need to be aware of is if they only seem to speak with you in legal jargon. A good legal firm will always respond to you plainly and clearly, be upfront about any fees, provide you with all of the necessary paperwork, and respond to your enquiries within 24-48 hours.

This covers everything you need to know about complaints about solicitors’ conveyancing. If you have any questions, queries, or insight into the matter, feel free to get in touch!

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photo of Alexandra Ventress

Alexandra is a junior content producer who enjoys writing articles and finding out more about the property market. Read more about Alexandra here.

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About Alexandra Ventress 91 Articles
Alexandra is a junior content producer who enjoys writing articles and finding out more about the property market. Read more about Alexandra here.

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