News In Focus
SLCC confirms £30 full rate general levy rise for 2018-19
Scottish solicitors will pay up to £30 more in 2018-19 under the general levy due to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the SLCC confirmed today as it laid its budget for the year from 1 July before the Scottish Parliament.
The 8.5% increase takes the full rate from £356 to £386, with £193 being payable by those in their first three years of practice, £126 by those practising outwith Scotland, £116 by in-house lawyers, and £183 by advocates.
It follows a 12.5% rise in 2017-18, which was the subject of vigorous protests by the profession, but the SLCC defended the latest jump by saying it was on track for a year end position showing a 20% increase in work over the past three years. It had also incurred high costs in litigation brought by the Law Society of Scotland, and ended the practice of reducing its reserves to fund part of its spending.
The final budget also confirms the imposition of a £20,000 levy on the Law Society of Scotland as an ‘approved regulator’ of new legal businesses which can have non-solicitor ownership, though the scheme under which the Society would act as such has yet to be approved by the Scottish Government.
Chief executive Neil Stevenson commented: "The past few years have seen a combination of factors make a big impact on our workload. These include increasing complaint numbers and changes to our process coming out of court decisions.
"As we highlighted in the consultation, our priority is dealing with this increased workload, including increased complaint handling times. The budget reflects that, and although we have identified efficiency savings in a number of areas, it will be necessary to increase the levy to fund increased staffing. This should ensure we’re dealing with complaints effectively and within a reasonable timescale."
He added: "We are obliged by law to make sure that the levy is ‘sufficient to meet our expenditure’. This budget will allow us to do this."
Graham Matthews, President of the Law Society of Scotland, responded: "People are right to ask why the SLCC is increasing its budget when the number of eligible complaints is falling.
"For the second year in a row, the SLCC is planning an above inflation increase in the costs which solicitors and clients must pay to fund its operations. Worse still, it is the second year where the SLCC has consulted on draft plans and then made no changes in response to the concerns raised. Meanwhile, other similar complaints handling bodies are making efficiency saving and cuttings costs.
"There was a real opportunity here for the SLCC to progress major changes to the way it administers legal complaints. It could have looked afresh at how it operates and embrace some radical thinking to improve efficiency and cut costs. Instead, concerns raised in the consultation have been dismissed in the knowledge there is no body to oversee or reject the SLCC’s cost rise. In fact, the SLCC could have doubled or tripled its budget and nobody, not even the Scottish Government, could stop it. This gap in accountability needs to be addressed in the years ahead."
The Society has been working with the SLCC on improvements that could be made to the complaints process ahead of the legislative change that is expected to follow the current review of legal services regulation under Esther Roberton. Mr Matthews added: "We look forward to engaging with the Scottish Government over the coming weeks as we seek to build a consensus on how best to take these reforms forward."