Category Archives: Consumer Law

Clients Satisfied but not Trusting of Lawyers

Lack of Trust

Lack of TrustAccording to a recent report from legal watchdog the Legal Services Consumer Panel, the UK’s legal client satisfaction rates are currently high. In spite of this, however, the level of trust that the public places in lawyers is falling.

The watchdog’s tracker survey was carried out between February and March this year in association with prominent survey specialists YouGov. Questions were asked of 1,864 people, of which the majority – 1,523 – had made use of legal services in the past two years.

The survey revealed that 85% of those who had made use of professional legal services reported that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service they had received from their lawyers, backing up strong satisfaction figures from other recent surveys.  61% said that the service from their chosen provider represented good value for money, with only 10% saying that they received poor value for the price they paid.

On the other hand, and despite the majority of people being happy with the service they received from their lawyers, the level of trust that people place in legal professionals is low and falling. Only 42% of those who responded to the survey said that they trusted lawyers to be truthful. Last year, this figure was 47%. Over a fifth of people, 22% said that they actively did not trust lawyers to be truthful.

This does not compare favourably with the trust figures for other professions. It places lawyers on a par with accountants, but in a less positive position compared to teachers, who were trusted to tell the truth by 69% of the general public, and doctors, who have the trust of 80%. Women were more likely than men to trust lawyers, the survey showed, and white people were more trusting of lawyers than people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.

The survey also examined the factors that typically go into a person’s choice of legal provider. While the majority of respondents stated that legal services had provided them with good value for money, this was not the most important deciding factor. That title goes to the reputation of the provider in question, which more than three quarter (77%) stated was the biggest consideration.

Price was nonetheless important, with 69% of the survey’s respondents stating that this was an important factor. Almost as highly-valued was the location of the provider, with 68% of people saying that a convenient location was important to them when choosing which firm they would go to.

Solicitors to Feature on Comparison Websites

Comparison

Information on solicitors is to be passed to comparison websites in response to calls for more information on practitioners of law to be made accessible. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has agreed that, by the end of this year, it will begin sharing data it holds with third party comparison sites.

The calls that prompted this move came from the Legal Services Consumer Panel. They felt that online registers should have a greater amount of useful information on solicitors made available to them. The Panel was first set up after the implementation of the Legal Services Act, and has considered the publication of this kind of data to be a key aim from the beginning.

In a letter sent to the Legal Services Consumer Panel in response to this, executive director of the SRA Crispin Passmore detailed steps that will be taken to improve in this area. Passmore said that, by Christmas, a “data extract” will be in place. This will most likely include details of any disciplinary action that a given firm may have faced in the past. It is also expected to include information on the size of the firm. This initial move will be followed by the development of a complete online register, expected to be completed before the end of 2015. The complete register will be able to feed data directly to comparison sites.

Other information which the Legal Services Consumer Panel suggests may later be made available include pricing information and feedback from previous clients.

The SRA are not alone in agreeing to share data towards this end. The Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg) and the Council for Licensed Conveyers have also agreed to make information they hold available in a form that can be used for this purpose.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel has singled out eight comparison sites which, based on self-assessment, it feels meet the required standards. It stresses that this does not form an endorsement of those sites specifically.

According to Elizabeth Davies, who chairs the Panel; “Not every regulator is fully on board yet, but this progress is really positive and there’s scope to build on it in the future…

“The quest for open data has been at the heart of the panel’s policies since 2011. Transparency is absolutely essential for consumers if they’re going to be able to make informed choices, protect themselves from harm and have confidence in the regulators.”

Research Highlights Stress Problem in Legal Profession

Recent research from Lawyer 2B has identified huge amounts of stress among legal professionals factors behind the problem include long hours, poor managerial support, and difficulty creating an effective work-life balance.

In recent times, legal firms have made efforts to improve the experience of staff when it comes to stress. Programmes have been introduced by many firms to help maintain the mental health of employees. Hagan Lovells pledged to carry out a review of its policies around the management of employee stress after an IP partner committed suicide. This resulted in the firm’s counselling service being moved on-site. Clifford Chance are another example, having announced a firm-wide rollout of its trainee anti-stress programme in April. Despite such moves, however, the research suggests that stress continues to be a major issue for professionals in the industry, particularly young lawyers.

The survey was carried out in April and looked at a number of factors to get a picture of the state of the industry. Among the areas examined were a number of key stress-inducing factors, working hours, perceived employer commitment to providing a work-life balance to employees, and the stress-busting initiatives that firms put into place.

One interesting and, for some, unexpected finding of the survey was that stress is not necessarily linked to long hours. However, many respondents found that high volumes of work were a key factor at causing stress, and long hours were certainly prevalent within the industry. 36% of respondents reported a typical working week of 46-55 hours and 20% said they worked between 56 and 65 hours. A further 11%, mostly working in a corporate, finance or litigation practice, reported working 66 hours or more in a week, and 2% exceeded 75 hours.  The longest hours are worked by Magic Circle lawyers across all seniority levels.

Nonetheless, support from the firm for which they work was a far more central factor than working hours. The worst-performing firms in this regard were generally those from the US. Of those lawyers working for a US firm in London that responded to the survey, 70% felt that their management did not make any real effort to encourage a work-life balance.

Given the various recent moves by major city firms to combat stress, the discovery may come as a disappointment to some. The problem could potentially be one of awareness. According to the findings of the survey, a mere 17% of lawyers are aware of their firms’ stress management initiatives.

Lawyers Unite to Oppose Legal Aid Cuts

legal-aid-protests

 There has been debate around the possibility of cuts to legal aid for some months, with many people opposing the impact these cuts could have on ordinary people in need of legal representation. Now, lawyers and legal groups with a professional interest in the area of legal aid have formed a new group to oppose the potential cuts.

The new group, known as the National Justice Committee, and it is made up of a number of member organisations. These include the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, Criminal Bar Association, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, Justice Alliance and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association. The Bar Council and the Law Society will also be in attendance, but in the capacity of observers rather than participators.

A statement was issued to announce the formation of this group. The statement said that the committee “notes the devastating effects of legal aid cuts and restrictions in social welfare law, family law and immigration law.”

The statement went on to say that the new committee “opposes all further legal aid cuts and proposals to weaken the ability of the ordinary citizen to challenge unlawful decision-making.” It suggested that if the cuts to legal aid go through, they “will diminish our social fabric by reducing access to justice.”

The group has also described the proposed cuts as “unnecessary and counter-productive.” It has claimed to be able to provide evidence in support of claims that these cuts would not ultimately result in savings, and that there were ways that savings could be achieved without making such cuts.

During the months that these issues have been under discussion, concerns have emerged over the sufficiency of legal aid even in its current form. For example, in the later part of 2013 it emerged that legal aid remains inaccessible to over 50% of domestic violence victims. Strict rules around requirements for certain forms of “qualifying evidence” prevent many victims from qualifying for legal aid. There are concerns this may lead to them being unable to seek legal assistance at all, and perhaps feeling unable to escape abusive relationships.

When such concerns are leading many to believe that legal aid should be rolled out to more people, concerns about the effects of cutting the available funds become even keener.

The new National Justice Committee now intends to set a date for a day of protest action, expected to take place sometime in late February or early March. There was previously a half-day of protest action held earlier this month.

Requirements for PPI Claims

The scandal of the payment protection insurance saga has exposed the darker side of financial institutions and made people realize that they can indeed find recompense in the law – even against some of the biggest and most powerful businesses in the country.  If you are among the thousands of people affected by the PPI fraud that occurred, knowing about PPI basics will help you get quick and effective compensation.

Most cases of PPI mis-selling have arisen due to reasons like the customer not being aware of having taken the policy, the provider not explaining the terms to the customer, and in some cases the customer is made to take the policy as a compulsory one without which he could not get the loan he applied for.

You can make a PPI complaint if you find that the features of the loan were not explained properly to you. The features include:

  • Inclusions and exclusions linked to the policy
  • The age limit- The limit is generally 65 to 70 years, but if the borrower is older than the limit then he is eligible for getting a PPI refund
  • Employment status and its affect on a policy or claim on the insurance

Other conditions in which you can claim compensation include having alternative cover at the time of taking the policy and in cases where the insurance will expire before the loan term.

Making the Complaint

You should first approach the PPI policy provider and explain your eligibility for getting the reimbursement. There are letter templates that can help you with this. You can customize the PPI assistance forms by deleting the parts that do not apply in your case. If the concerned firm disagrees with your claim, you can approach the Financial Ombudsman service.

There are PPI Claims Companies agencies that also offer PPI help, but charge a certain percentage of the refund as fees.  These companies usually have experts on hand to ensure the compensation process is quicker and trouble-free. Also, they are often approached by customers who could not get the desired PPI claims by approaching the policy provider directly and want assistance in the claiming process.

Lawmakers Propose Reforming Class Action Laws to Fight Price Fixing

Government officials recently stated that existing laws do not extend enough protection to people who have become victims to price fixing. Several lawmakers are proposing revisions to the law that would make it easier for consumers and businesses to file class action lawsuits against companies who use abusive pricing schemes.

The government has consulted with a number of experts. They have come to the conclusion that existing competition laws are antiquated and ineffective. They hope that the changes they make can provide the necessary protections to consumers and businesses throughout the country. The biggest problem with the existing law is the complexity of the bureaucracy. Consumers must invest substantial amounts of money to launch class action lawsuits and spend months or years trying to navigate the legal system.

The new law would stipulate that all competition cases would be heard by the Competition Appeal Tribunal. This would allow plaintiffs to get justice in a timelier and more cost-effective manner. This new venue would also be beneficial to many small and medium sized businesses that have had a difficult time filing anti-competition lawsuits against larger companies.

The new system would also automatically include all consumers in a class-action lawsuit unless they expressly stated that they do not want to be part of it. The government feels that this will encourage more people to participate in lawsuits.

The new system would also institute new safeguards to prevent plaintiffs from filing frivolous lawsuits. These include prohibiting plaintiffs from paying contingency fees to lawyers in class-action lawsuits. The new law would also require a judge to certify any claim before it could go to trial.

The new reforms would only apply to competition cases. However, lawmakers could consider extending them to other cases in future years if they are satisfied with the new system.

FOS Proposes No-Claim PPI Payout for Victims of Mis Sold PPI

The Financial Ombudsman Service recently proposed a no-claim payout proposition against banks who seemingly try to “delay and inconvenience” customers intending to reject their claims or have the customer drop their claim as well. The proposal is still under evaluation, but many customers are hopeful for the proposal to push through.

FOS chief Natalie Ceeney stated that banks are “trying to impart blame” on their customers by slowing down the PPI claims process attempting to discourage customers from pushing through with their claims. She states that this activity only leads to customers getting claims management companies to handle their claims. The “clogging” of fraudulent PPI claims is actually an incident wherein a customer uses professionals to make the claim over and over again.

Respectable CMCs continue to aid customers in reclaiming their repayments for the insurance policy. CMCs state that they are not trying to gain more profit and be a nuisance at the same time for the PPI claims process. Instead, they are just waiting for customers to allow them to help make the claim. They gain their profit properly as it makes use of the no win, no fee terms of agreement, which means that customers only pay when they accomplish the task effectively and satisfactorily.

UK’s PPI bill has currently reached £13 billion in total, but analysts mention that it can go as high as £16 billion to actually end the PPI crisis. The biggest high-street bank to have a large PPI bill is the Lloyds Banking Group with a bill of £4.3 billion in total and looking at an additional £2.3 billion for additional compensation claims.

EU Summit in Banking Group move

The continued financial problems affecting many of the EU member states have been to the fore in the current EU summit, with further moves to create a block EU bank in order to try and ease the situation. Germany is largely behind the project, with an agreed priority towards national budgetary discipline, but the members are worried about upsetting the European Central Bank in the process. The subject is likely to be an emotive one with problems in Spain, general unrest in Greece and rumblings elsewhere, and it remains to be seen how much can be done.

European Stability Mechanism

The European Stability Mechanism (ESB) is the new EU fund that is designed to help member states in trouble. One proposal at the latest summit is that the ESM should be able to act in a direct manner to restabilize banks. This would cut down on red tape and time involved, but would also be a controversial decision. There are concerns that the 17 member states are divided into the ‘have’s and the ‘have not’s’, with the latter being continually and expensively bailed out by the former.

The State of Play

At the moment the main problems are in Greece, where the economy is in seemingly uncontrollable free-fall, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Cyprus, with the UK also officially in recession. It remains to be seen how the more affluent northern European countries will take to being asked to fund the less wealthy members, with Greece in particular being a point of concern. Furthermore, the UK – an EU member but not a Eurozone member – wants legal safeguards to protect the Bank of England against possible economic influences from a central European bank, and it is not clear whether the remainder of the EU member states will be open to such an exclusive deal.

Energy Price Rises – Out of Pocket again

The recent news that our energy prices are to rise again – despite the energy providers making massive profits year upon year – will certainly raise the hackles of the everyday consumer. British Gas was the first to announce a price rise, of 6%, and rivals were quick to follow with similarly alarming price increases. The news has led Consumer Rights, a group that follows such information, to suggest the government should work more closely with the energy companies to ensure fair and sensible prices.

Carbon Taxes

Part of the increase, it seems, is being put down the energy providers having to pay carbon taxes, controversial tax schemes now in place in the UK that are intended to encourage investment in green energy. Audrey Gallacher, of Consumer Focus, explained:

“From next year, an average of £4bn will be taken from consumer bills in the form of carbon taxes. Using a proportion of that revenue to fund a much more ambitious energy efficiency programme could start to tackle fuel poverty and provide a jump start to our energy efficiency industry.”

This may seem like a sensible suggestion to the man on the street, but the government is unlikely to see it that way.

Free Insulation

Notably, British Gas is at the forefront of offering consumers free insulation in a variety of forms. It has even extended this offer to none-customers. However, this could be a plea bargain as it was expected not to meet legally applied targets, which could cost it a great deal of money in fines. However, there is no doubt that as many people already have adequate insulation a reduction – or freezing – of energy costs would have made more of an impact on the way the companies are viewed by the consumer.

Know Your Consumer Rights

It can sometimes feel as if it’s a minefield out there in consumer world: everywhere you go, whether you are shopping online or in the high street, you are bombarded with offers of extended warranties, notices of your statutory rights, and warnings that you need your receipt to claim a refund. But what do you actually need, and how do your rights stand as things are? It’s important to know your rights, so let’s cover some basics.

Faulty Goods and the Law

What happens if you buy something and it turns out to be faulty? The law says that all goods should be fir for their purpose, of satisfactory quality, and match the description given. If either of these is not adhered to, you have a right to a replacement, repair or your money back. You are not entitled to your money back if the goods are not faulty or you have caused the damage, nor if you previously examined the goods for defects.

Satisfactory Quality

The phrase ‘of satisfactory quality’ is one that can be interpreted in many ways. Basically, goods are judged on their price and purpose. Satisfactory quality covers the appearance and finish of goods, whether they are safe to use and any defects present, including minor ones. If you have bought something new – from a retailer, not a private seller – and you believe it to be of inferior quality you may be able to claim a refund.

Consumer Rights Law

Remember, everything is covered by the Sale of Goods Act, a legal act that is designed to protect the consumer. If you have doubts about anything to do with your consumer rights the Citizens Advice Bureau should be the first port of call, and they will advise you as to whom to talk to next.

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