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SLCC budget rises wrong, Society argues in response
Proposals for a third consecutive above-inflation increase in the levy on solicitors, in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's draft budget for 2019-20, have been criticised by the Law Society of Scotland in its response published today.
The Society describes the overall proposed 9% rise as "unreasonable and wrong" in an uncertain and potentially turbulent economic setting, arguing that it will lead to rising costs for legal services consumers.
If agreed, the budget would generate an estimated total income of £3.7m for the SLCC, representing a rise of almost 40% in just four years, with the legal profession and clients having to fund an extra £1m of spending in that time, the Society states.
It takes the view that while the SLCC has sought views on how the budget should be shared across the profession – which while freezing the cost for some, could see sole practitioners face a possible 28% rise in their payment under one cost model – the overall spending proposed fails to recognise the impact that increased costs would have on solicitors and their clients. In the context of a highly competitive market and an extremely uncertain economic backdrop, it believes the proposed rises are unacceptable. "Our prime concern is to address the unrelenting and disproportionate rise in the overall costs of complaints handling", the letter states.
It calls on the SLCC to "set out how it is looking to learn from best practice elsewhere and what particular areas have been identified to bring additional efficiencies", adding: "It is not clear whether the operating budget has included assumed savings that relate to such efficiencies."
And it challenges the SLCC's approach decisions to press ahead with earlier increases following consultation: "The current lack of effective oversight or control means the SLCC remains free to charge whatever it wants, irrespective of economic or market conditions. This has been shown by the decision to press ahead with substantial rises to the levy in 2017 and 2018, despite the concern and opposition expressed, not just by the Law Society but by other organisations as well as Members of the Scottish Parliament. The experience of the last few years means there is no confidence in the profession that the SLCC is genuinely open to the arguments presented or to amending their plans in response to its consultation."
The Society further questions the need for a levy of £8,000 regarding regulation of licenced legal services providers, since there are none in Scotland and the Society, while approved, has yet to be fully authorised as such a regulator.
Society President Alison Atack commented: "The SLCC has put a rising number of complaints as the main reason for its third consecutive above-inflation rise. While we have seen a rise in recent years, there had been a drop in complaints handled by the SLCC prior to that. Complaints numbers remain low in the context of the number of transactions carried out by solicitors in Scotland and are a fraction of what was anticipated at the creation of the complaints handling body.
"Given it is ultimately the consumers of legal services who fund the costs of regulation, including complaints handling, alongside the need to maintain a Scottish legal sector which can compete in the wider legal services market, the SLCC must ensure every penny is spent wisely.
"That is why it is so important for the SLCC to be totally focused on its core complaints handling role. With an income of over £3m for the handling of around 1,000 new complaints a year, the SLCC already benefits from having substantial resources at its disposal to fulfil its important statutory responsibility and should deal with complaints quickly and effectively."
The response also emphasises the need to continue to work jointly on improving complaints handling processes.
Ms Atack said: “It is essential that Scotland has an effective and efficient body for the handling of complaints against legal professionals. While research with members of the public shows high levels of confidence and trust in the Scottish legal profession amongst consumers, clients rightly depend on both the SLCC and the Law Society to act when the service provided or a solicitor’s conduct does not meet the high standards expected.
"We have been working with the SLCC on identifying ways of reducing complaints numbers and addressing the core issues which give rise to complaints and look forward to making further progress."
Click here to view the full response.