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Common client complaints and how to avoid them

Author: Professional Standards Department

Published: 05 Oct 2020

New Legal Ombudsman's postal address from 22 January 2024

Ensure your records are current. From 22 January 2024, all written correspondence should be sent to: Legal Ombudsman, PO Box 6167, Slough SL1 0EH

Find out the most common probate-related complaints received by the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and read the advice on how to avoid these issues.

Each year the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) publishes a report on the complaints it investigates.

In its overview of annual complaints data 2019/20, LeO has provided some helpful data about the complaints it receives and how to avoid them.

We have summarised the information below or you can find the full report on LeO’s website.

In 2019/20, LeO accepted 6,425 new cases and concluded 6,384. LeO reported that 13% of complaints it received related to wills and probate.

LeO categorised its wills and probate complaints by type:

  • Delays / failure to progress (26%)
  • Poor communications (25%)
  • Cost (23%)
  • Failure to advise (14%)
  • Failure to follow instructions (12%)

Delays / failure to progress can be outside of your control, such as inheritance tax issues, but poor communication can and should be addressed more easily within your firm.

LeO noted that it:

‘often sees cases where the service provider has failed to update the executor or beneficiaries on the amount of work necessary to complete the estate. This can sometimes be a lengthy process, particularly if it involves any complications, such as assets abroad, which can take time to track down or value. Service providers have a responsibility to manage expectations on how long things will take and what progress has been made.’

The key to avoiding a complaint arising due to slower than expected progress is through clear and timely communication. You should ensure that:

  • Any timescales set out in original communications are realistic.
  • You are clear with your client about what is causing any delays and inform them in writing.
  • You keep any updates jargon free, explaining the legal process in plain English.

Complaints about cost can again be largely avoided, if you provide clear information in advance of the engagement around your pricing and service provision. LeO noted that costs can increase due to valid reasons, but it is important that, where appropriate, executors and/or beneficiaries are notified and in the event of unexpected costs. The best possible information should be provided at the earliest opportunity.

It is also important, that should a complaint arise, you have clear internal procedures to deal with such complaints. Your clients should know at the start of any engagement who they can complain to. You should provide the details of the probate contact principal or Head of Legal Practice (HoLP), should the circumstances arise. You also need to inform your clients of their right to complain to ICAEW and LeO, and tell them about ICAEW’s Probate Compensation Scheme. You must communicate this information to your client, which could be in your engagement letter or standard terms of business, and ideally we would encourage you to make the information available on your website. If a complaint relates to a service issue it should be referred to LeO in the first instance.

Price and service transparency: best practice

ICAEW’s 2019 research on the provision of transparency information showed there is room for improvement in transparency in all areas from pricing disclosures, the provision of information relating to complaints and redress, compensation arrangements and professional indemnity insurance.

ICAEW resources are available to you to help with clear  communications and adopting our transparency recommendations can help you avoid these common areas where complaints can arise.