The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is responsible for regulating solicitors in England and Wales. Our purpose is to protect the public by ensuring that solicitors meet high standards and by acting when risks are identified.
We 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 recognise that 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 'complainant' has been used to refer to anyone making a complaint about the service provided by the SRA, for example, an informant, student, solicitor, etc; or subject solicitor against whom we are taking regulatory action.
Until we introduced this policy, the only external review available for complainants was provided by the Legal Ombudsman (LeO).
We launched this policy on 1 April 2010 which involves a three stage process for dealing with complaints about the service provided by the SRA: stage 1: response is provided by the unit (i.e. the person who has been dealing with the matter or their line manager); stage 2: a response is provided by the central Complaints Team; and, stage 3: since 1 October 2010, we have introduced an independent element to our complaints handling policy, provided by an independent reviewer - an external appointment commissioned by the SRA.
The independent reviewer is intended to have two distinct roles:
Although this policy came into effect on 1 April 2010, the services of the independent reviewer were only available from 1 October 2010. Therefore complainants who made their original complaint to the SRA after 1 October 2010, will have the right to refer their concerns to the independent reviewer.
This policy applies to complaints brought by or on behalf of someone who has been directly affected by the action or inaction complained of.
For complaints raised by complainants via their Member of Parliament (MP), although we will respond separately to the MP to address their concerns directly, we will investigate the constituent's complaint using this procedure.
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.
Some complaints are better handled outside this policy—for example, general concerns about something we have said in the press or a criticism of one of our policies. In these cases, we will acknowledge the complaint within five working days of receipt, explaining who will respond and when. We will then refer the matter to the relevant unit for an appropriate response.
In exceptional cases, we may decide to defer a complaint investigation where it would be more appropriate to address the issues using other internal SRA procedures (for example, the disciplinary or capability procedures). In such cases, a response to the complaint will be provided at the conclusion of the alternative internal procedure used.
If we do decide to defer the investigation, the complainant will be advised of the reasons for our decision and will be able to ask for a review of the decision by the independent reviewer.
Call our Contact Centre who will initially help with any concerns about our service, or take details of your concerns to decide which team would be able to assist.
Complaints may be made in the following formats: in writing, by email, online, or by telephone. We will also respond to complaints that are made in person during the course of our investigation or other work.
Complainants may be referred to the SRA website for a complaints form. The complaints form can be completed online or can be downloaded and sent in by other means. Completion of the complaints form is preferable but not compulsory; it is intended to help complainants understand what information we need to help us respond fully to the complaint and within our timescales.
Staff who have received a complaint should be careful not to treat completion of the form as the first step of the complaints procedure. If the complaint has already been made verbally or in writing and it is clear what the complaint is about and the complainant's preferred outcome, it will not be necessary to ask the complainant to complete the complaints form. Simply asking a person to repeat their complaint in a different format is likely to add to their frustration and could be seen as discouraging the complaint.
Although it is preferable for complaints to be received in a written format (for certainty and to assist with our record keeping), complainants are not required to do so. Where the complaint is made verbally it is our preference that 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.
In complex cases where the complaint is made verbally, staff should confirm the nature of the complaint with the complainant and where possible, record their preferred outcome. As soon as possible after the conversation staff should make a clear and careful record of the complaint and this should be agreed with the complainant before the complaint is investigated.
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. For details about how to respond to such requests, staff should refer to our Reasonable Adjustments policy and Interpreting and Translations policy.
On receipt of a complaint, we will decide whether to refer the complaint for a stage 1 response from the unit where the complaint arose or a stage 2 response from the Complaints Team. All complaints are taken seriously and a response from the unit 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 unit where the complaint arose by liaising with the Complaints Team in accordance with the criteria set out below. The Complaints Team will be available to advise the unit in relation to that decision and will audit the process to ensure that the decisions are consistent and being made in accordance with the criteria.
If at any time either the unit where the complaint arose or the Complaints Team 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, whether or not that is from the unit where the complaint arose or the Complaints Team.
The complaints that may be more appropriate for referral straight to our Complaints Team at stage 2 include complaints:
- which are about the work of more than one unit in the SRA, when it would be preferable for a single response to be prepared by the Complaints Team
- where the case is sensitive or high profile
- where there is likely to be a significant impact on the SRA and/or on the complainant, for example cases where the outcome could affect the SRA's work more widely than within the unit where the complaint arose or where the SRA is involved in related legal proceedings
- where a stage 1 response from the unit would be inappropriate because there has been a serious breakdown of trust and confidence between the complainant and the unit
Our investigation (whether conducted by the unit where the complaint arose or the Complaints Team) will involve an officer reviewing the relevant case papers, consulting the SRA's 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 the discretion of the SRA. 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 and in each case these will be clearly specified.
The next sections explain the three-stage process that complaints may follow and a flow chart is available at annex 1 to this policy to help explain the process.
We will acknowledge all complaints within five working days of receipt and, at the same time, will advise complainants whether we will be providing a response from the unit where the complaint arose or from the Complaints Team.
If a complaint is referred for a stage 1 response from the unit 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 Complaints Team, 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.
If a complaint is referred for independent review at stage 3, we will expect the independent reviewer to determine whether the case will be accepted for a full review within 15 working days from the date they receive the SRA's file (and all relevant information). If the review is accepted, we will expect the full response to be provided within a further 20 working days.
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.
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.
In certain circumstances a complaint may be passed directly to stage 2.
Acknowledge complaint within 5 working days from receipt.
Stage 1 - Response from unit where the complaint arose
Investigation by the unit where the complaint arose - first SRA response for most complaints cases but a minority of cases may be investigated by the central complaints Team at stage 2.
Substantive response within 10 working days from date of acknowledgement.
If the complainant is satisfied with the result then the complaint is closed.
If the complainant is not satisfied then they can be referred to stage 2.
Stage 2 - Response from the central Complaints Team
Review by the central Complaints Team for complainants dissatisfied with the outcome of stage 1
Investigation by the central Complaints Team for the minority of cases referred to Stage 2 at the outset.
Acknowledge complaints within 5 working days from receipt; substantive response sent within 20 working days from date of acknowledgement.
If the complainant is satisfied with the result then the complaint is closed.
If the complainant is not satisfied then they can be referred to the independent reviewer. If the reviewer feels there is a case to answer then you can go to stage 3. If the independent reviewer declines a full review the complaint is closed.
Stage 3 Response - Independent external review
Was the investigation thorough and fair?
Were all the relevant facts were taken into account?
Were the conclusions reached reasonable and properly explained?
Was the investigation handled efficiently, without unnecessary delay?
The independent reviewers decision is final and the complaint is then closed.