Scottish Legal Complaints Commission sets out above-inflation budget rise in the wake of increased complaints
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission chief executive Neil Stevenson - Image credit: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
Scotland’s independent body for complaints about lawyers has set out an above-inflation budget rise for the second year in a row in the wake of an increase in complaints.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is consulting on its proposed 2018/19 budget, which the Law Society of Scotland has called “inflation busting" and “highly frustrating”.
There has been a 14 per cent rise in complaints against lawyers to the SLCC over the past two years.
Due to this rise, as well as an end to the subsidy of costs from the commission’s reserves, the SLCC has set out a 5.2 per cent increase in its budget for next year.
This follows a 12.5 per cent rise last year.
The commission’s work is funded by imposing a compulsory levy on all lawyers in Scotland.
SLCC chief executive Neil Stevenson said that levies had been kept low in previous years by drawing on reserves, but this “could not continue indefinitely”.
The proposed budget means that solicitors in private practice will pay an extra £30 next year, an 8.5 per cent increase, while in-house lawyers would be charged an extra £9 per year, with a £14 rise for members of the Faculty of Advocates.
The SLCC plans to use the extra funding to recruit new case workers to handle the increase in complaints.
The commission is also consulting on how the funding should be arranged, following the Law Society of Scotland’s authorisation as an ‘approved regulator’ of new business models after the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 made changes to allow non-solicitor ownership of legal services firms.
SLCC chief executive Neil Stevenson said it was “critical” that the current levy for individual lawyers does not subsidise the new market.
Commenting on the consultation, Stevenson said: “Complaints remain a tiny proportion of all legal work.
“However, as numbers increase, and those entering the later, more costly, stages of our process also rise our costs increase.
“We know that the vast majority of complaints come from a small number of practice areas.
“Last year the Law Society of Scotland questioned the proportionality of the levy on certain groups within the profession, such as in-house lawyers, in the society’s public response to our consultation.
“In recognition of that, part of this year’s consultation opens up the question of how the levy might be divided among different groups of legal practitioners.
“We are open to the views of the profession, and those of the wider public, about where we should be moving to: a levy that falls more on those areas that generate most complaints and costs or, conversely, a single rate for all lawyers.”
However the Law Society of Scotland, the professional body for solicitors in Scotland, has hit out at the rise, calling it “frustrating” and suggesting the SLCC should cut its costs.
Law Society of Scotland president Graham Matthews, said: “It is highly frustrating that the SLCC has chosen to come forward with yet another inflation-busting rise in its levy.
“It comes over and above the massive budget and levy rise we saw last year which prompted such fury from solicitors who felt they were being charged more for a slow and inefficient complaints system.
“If passed, that’s approximately an 18 per cent rise over the course of two years.
“A significant part of the rationale behind last year’s 12.5 per cent rise was that there had been a 12.5 per cent rise in the number of complaints.
“While we never accepted this argument, the most recent annual report from the SLCC shows a rise in complaints of only two per cent.
“This further undermines the 5.2 per cent budget levy increase now being proposed.
“The proposals, if implemented, will impact particularly on private practice solicitors with an 8.5 per cent increase – more than double the current rate of inflation.
“Under its new chair, the SLCC needs to look at its budget again and deliver savings like we are seeing in the rest of the public sector.”
Legislation sets out that the SLCC must consult on its budget each January, publish responses in March and lay a budget before the Scottish Parliament in April each year, but it is the SLCC itself which sets its budget.
Matthews also suggested that in the longer term the SLCC should be subject to independent oversight.
A review of the legal services market in Scotland – including complaints procedures – is currently underway, with a report to be given to the Scottish Government by the end of this year.