SLCC budget rise will mean higher costs for consumers

SLCC budget rise will mean higher costs for consumers

Alison Atack

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s (SLCC) proposed budget for 2019/20 risks increasing costs for consumers, the Law Society of Scotland has warned.

The proposed budget, which is now out for statutory consultation, includes a 9.2 per cent rise in income funded by a levy on solicitors and advocates. It comes on the back of a series of double digit percentage rises over recent years.

President of the Law Society, Alison Atack, said: “It is the most vulnerable people in society who rely most on legal services, often at times of difficulty and distress.

“This latest fee increase will mean consumers in Scotland will bear even higher costs, with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission costing almost 40 per cent more than it did four years ago. Many firms could end up paying four times as much as originally proposed when the SLCC was conceived.

“There are a number of reforms which could be made to the legal complaints system, to make it quicker and more efficient. We have been working with the SLCC on these measures and hope the Scottish government can prioritise time to progress the changes during this year. Whilst these improvements aim to create a better complaints process, they have potential to save money too, which would be much better news for consumers of legal services.

“We will look at this draft budget carefully and will consult with solicitors across Scotland before submitting our formal response to the consultation.”

The SLCC justified the budget on the basis that complaints have increased by 22 per cent over the past three years; that handling times must be reduced and that its goal is to “deliver a fair service that delivers robust outcomes for practitioners and consumers alike”.

Jim Martin, SLCC chair, commented: “The funding model is fundamentally flawed. This is a multi-million pound industry yet the complaints model is funded, in the main, by levies on individual solicitors, often subsidising their private sector employers.

“Regulatory reform needs to move to a focus on regulating the business units that provide services to the public and not just individual staff within them.

“Ultimately business owners set the risk and quality culture in a business, and are accountable for services delivered to the public. Business owners need to meet the cost of complaints about their businesses. In the context of rising complaints, and an ongoing pattern of common issues in certain areas, we are interested in views on whether this is a fairer approach and encourage all sectors of the profession, and the public, to engage in this debate.”

Chief executive Neil Stevenson added: “Not only is the number of complaints increasing, but individual complaints are becoming longer and more complex to work on. We know that our staff work hard and combined with changes to our process, we have been working through more complaints.

“However, we cannot stand still and must meet the continuously rising demand. We are keen to explore all options to improve our processes where we can, but will also continue to make the case for new primary legislation to create a better statutory system, and call on the Scottish government to move rapidly to consult on the recommendations of the recent independent review of legal regulation.

“The budget increases frontline staff, covers the public sector pay deal, invests in IT improvement to aid smarter working, and supports ongoing management change – all aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the SLCC’s work.”

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