Complaints Procedure

Introduction

  • Hayden Solicitors Limited are committed to providing a high standard of service, dealing with everyone in a way that is fair, transparent, proportionate and free from discrimination. We may not always provide the level of service that we would like and welcome the opportunity to consider and respond to any concerns that may arise.
  • We take all complaints seriously and will learn from our mistakes to improve our performance.
  • For the purposes of this policy, the term ‘client’ has been used to refer to anyone making a complaint about the service provided by Hayden Solicitors Limited

We launched this policy on 1 April 2011 which involves a three stage process for dealing with complaints about the service provided by us:

Stage 1: A response is provided by the person who has been dealing with the matter through the supervisor, who may in this instance be the same person

Stage 2: Any further response is provided by the Practice Administrator for the time being

Stage 3: You may refer any unresolved complaint to the Legal Ombudsman

Aims and objectives

The policy has three main aims and objectives:

  • to provide a user-friendly way for people to complain about the service we have provided
  • to provide us with a procedure that helps us to respond quickly and efficiently to complaints that we receive
  • to help us monitor our complaints so that we can understand where we may be going wrong and improve the way we work

Promoting this policy

This policy is available on request as set out in our original client care letter

Principles of good complaint handling

We have adopted the principles set out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”)

In summary the principles are:-

  • Getting it right – having a system that is robust, outcome-focused, and handled by staff with appropriate skills and experience
  • Being customer focused – having simple and accessible procedures and dealing with people promptly and sensitively
  • Being open and accountable – by providing information about how to access the complaints procedure and providing honest, evidence-based explanations and reasons for decisions
  • Acting fairly and proportionately – ensuring that complaints are dealt with impartially and without unlawful discrimination or prejudice
  • Putting things right – providing appropriate remedies, acknowledging mistakes and apologising where appropriate
  • Seeking continuous improvement – recording and monitoring our complaints and learning from the outcomes

What is a complaint?

A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction about the way in which we have carried out, or failed to carry out, our work which requires a response.

We hope that, before they make a complaint, people will first raise any concerns or questions that they may have with the person dealing with their case and they will make every effort to respond immediately, before these matters develop into a formal complaint.

Complaints may be made about any aspect of the service we have provided, for example:

  • mistakes or lack of care
  • unreasonable delay
  • unprofessional behaviour
  • discrimination, and
  • bias

Discrimination complaints

We will take any complaint that we receive very seriously, and it is an important part of our drive for transparency that we respond openly and fairly if things go wrong. This is particularly important when we receive complaints about discrimination.

It is essential that clients have trust and confidence that we will carry out our responsibilities fairly and without discrimination. Through this policy, we will take the opportunity to challenge discrimination, helping us meet our equality duties and deliver our equality and diversity strategy by:

  • dealing thoroughly and sensitively with complaints of discrimination
  • making sure that all staff dealing with complaints have received training on handling discrimination complaints
  • equality monitoring our complaints
  • reviewing the incidence and outcomes of discrimination complaints and using the findings to improve the way that we work

When will this policy apply?

As from the 1st April 2011

This policy applies to complaints brought by or on behalf of someone who has been directly affected by the action or inaction complained of.

This policy applies to complaints about the actions (or inaction) of our staff (whether they happen to be solicitors or not), and anyone we have authorised to act on our behalf (e.g. panel solicitors, firms to whom we may have outsourced our work to, etc).

We will consider complaints made to us within six months of the action complained of. We will make exceptions for complaints made outside the six-month time limit when there are reasonable grounds for the delay, for example illness or where the complainant becomes aware of the actions about which he or she is complaining after the expiry of the six month period.

Assurances and expectations

We provide the following assurances to complainants:

  • we will observe good complaint handling principles in the way that we apply this policy
  • we will seek to respond to all complaints promptly and in accordance with the service standards set out within this policy
  • all complaints will be handled in confidence
  • we will treat complainants with courtesy and respect at all times

We appreciate that people making a complaint will be feeling dissatisfied with the way they have been treated. We understand the frustration that this may cause, but we do nevertheless expect people to be courteous in dealing with our staff.

Roles and responsibilities of staff

All staff have a responsibility to familiarise themselves with this policy and for advising complainants about how to make a complaint.

The sole proprietor has responsibility for overseeing, administering and supporting the operation of the policy. In particular, being responsible for:

  • providing advice and guidance to all staff on complaints handling
  • receiving and coordinating all complaints received online by email or by any other means
  • conducting central complaint investigations and reviews
  • keeping this policy and procedures up to date
  • providing quality assurance for all our complaints handling work; and
  • monitoring complaints data and coordinating the work required

Handling complaints where there is ongoing legal matter

Where a complaint is made about an ongoing matter, we will not normally suspend our work. We have an ongoing responsibility to protect clients and as officers of the court, and will take this into account when we consider the position on receipt of the complaint.

In considering whether the work we are undertaking should be suspended we will take into account:

  • the duty to act on behalf of the client
  • the nature of the complaint made, in particular whether if upheld it could have a significant impact on the ongoing solicitor/client relationship
  • whether there will be significant impact on any third party, such as the court where we are officers of the court.

We will explain our decision with reasons to the complainant.

If we do continue acting in the matter, we will not normally transfer the case to another fee earner unless we feel that a change is necessary to preserve the integrity of the investigation, for example where the complainant has accused the fee earner of bias, discrimination or dishonesty.

Making a complaint

Complainants will be advised to make their complaints initially either to the person they have been dealing with, or that person’s manager at the practice address, Suite 22, Link 665 Business Centre, Rossendale, Lancashire BB4 6TH.

Complaints may be made in the following formats: in writing, by email, or online.

It is preferable for complaints to be received in a written format (for certainty and to assist with our record keeping). All responses are sent in writing (to avoid any misunderstanding) unless the complainant requests otherwise—in which case very clear and detailed telephone attendance notes will be kept.

We may be able to offer some assistance to complainants in making their complaint, in particular to disabled complainants who have asked for reasonable adjustments and to complainants who need to communicate with us in an alternative language.

Seeking a resolution

In dealing with complaints, our priority is to achieve a satisfactory outcome for the complainant and at every stage of the procedure we will consider whether there is a practical and simple way to resolve the problem by agreement with the complainant.

In all cases where a complaint is resolved before the complaints procedure has been completed, the terms of the resolution will be confirmed in writing to the complainant (unless the complainant requests otherwise i.e. verbally, or as a reasonable adjustment) and the complaint will be regarded as withdrawn on the terms agreed.

Our response to complaints received

On receipt of a complaint, we will decide whether to refer the complaint for a stage 1 response from the fee earner where the complaint arose or a stage 2 response from the Practice Administrator. All complaints are taken seriously and a response from the fee earner where the complaint arose does not mean we regard it as less serious or less important. We would expect the majority of complaints to be dealt with as a stage 1 and this decision will be made by the fee earner in respect of whom the complaint arose, by liaising with the Practice Administrator in accordance with the criteria set out below.

If at any time either the fee earner where the complaint arose or the Practice Administrator decides that a complaint referred for a stage 1 response becomes more suitable for a stage 2 response (or vice versa), the complaint will be transferred accordingly, the complainant will be advised of our decision and the reasons will be explained.

We will acknowledge the complaint and advise the complainant how the complaint will be dealt with and by whom. We aim to resolve most complaints on our first attempt.

The complaints that may be more appropriate for referral straight to our Practice Administrator at stage 2 include complaints:

  • which are about the work of more than one fee earner, when it would be preferable for a single response to be prepared by the Practice Administrator
  • where the case is sensitive or high profile
  • where a stage 1 response from the fee earner would be inappropriate because there has been a serious breakdown of trust and confidence between the complainant and the fee earner

Our investigation (whether conducted by the fee earner where the complaint arose or the Practice Administrator) will involve reviewing the relevant case papers, consulting the complaints procedures and policies, and seeking a response from the staff involved in the matter complained of.

We will ensure that the complainant and the staff involved have an equal opportunity to put forward their case and will keep in contact with the complainant and the staff involved as necessary to clarify the issues, seek further comments and to report progress. Contact with complainants and staff will usually be by telephone, email or letter; but in exceptional circumstances if we feel it will help to progress the complaint or encourage its early resolution, we will consider meeting complainants and staff in person. However, this will be at our discretion. We recognise that this may be agreed as a reasonable adjustment for our disabled complainants.

A complaint may be upheld, not upheld or partially upheld, and the complainant will be given written confirmation, with reasons, of all decisions made under this policy. By ‘partially upheld’ we refer to cases where some of the allegations made are upheld but some are not.

The next sections explain the three-stage process that complaints may follow

Stage 1: Response from the fee earner where the complaint arose

Our approach in dealing with complaints at stage 1 will be flexible, depending on the nature of the complaint. Some complaints may be best dealt with by a phone call from the person who has been dealing with the matter. Others complaints will involve a detailed review of the file before a response can be provided.

In all cases, we will write to the complainant to confirm the outcome of the complaint.

Stage 2: Response from Practice Administrator

The Practice Administrator will review complaints that we have not been able to resolve at stage 1 and will investigate the complaints which we have decided are not suitable for a stage 1 response.

In all cases, we will write to the complainant to confirm the outcome, advising them that they have the opportunity for their complaint to be considered by Legal Ombudsman if they are not satisfied with the outcome.

Stage 3: Legal Ombudsman

These are the complaints that we have not been able to resolve internally.

We will ask complainants to tell us which part of the complaint outcome they are dissatisfied with, and why and what they are seeking to achieve from the Ombudsman.

Remedies

A complaint that has been upheld or partially upheld at stage 1 or stage 2 may attract one or more of the following remedies:

  • a full acknowledgement and explanation of any poor service
  • an apology
  • appropriate action to rectify the situation for the complainant, such as a reduction in your bill of costs
  • appropriate recommendations for action to improve our practices or procedures

Our service standards for handling complaints about the service provided us

We will acknowledge all complaints within five working days of receipt

If a complaint is referred for a stage 1 response from the fee earner where the complaint arose, we will acknowledge receipt of the complaint within five working days; and aim to provide a full response within 10 working days (two weeks) from the date of the acknowledgment.

At the conclusion of stage 1, if the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome, they will have 15 working days from the date the outcome is sent to them to request that their complaint is progressed to stage 2.

If a complaint is referred for a stage 2 response from the Practice Administrator, we will acknowledge receipt of the complaint within five working days; and aim to provide a full response within 20 working days (four weeks) from the date of the acknowledgment.

At the conclusion of stage 2, if the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome, they will have 15 working days from the date the outcome is sent to them to request that their complaint is progressed to stage 3. It is then a matter for the Ombudsman service.

If we are not able to respond within these timescales, we will advise the complainant why and let him or her know when we will be in a position to respond fully.

Accountability and reporting

We will monitor and review our complaints handling against the good complaint-handling principles

We will learn from our complaints and ensure that we make appropriate changes to our policy and/or practices as a result of the lessons learnt and such changes will be part of our regular reporting requirements.