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Law guide

Licensed conveyancers

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Licensed conveyancers

Licensed conveyancers are specialist property lawyers who transfer a property or a piece of land from one person to another. Many of us will make use of a licensed conveyancer at some point in our lives when we purchase a property. Although the majority will use the services of a conveyancer without complaint, it is important to know what to do if you do encounter any problems.

First step

The first step you should take when you have a problem with a licensed conveyancer is to send a complaint, either directly to the conveyancer or to the person within the business responsible for handling complaints. You should wait at least 8 weeks after sending the letter of complaint, to give your conveyancer time to respond before you escalate matters any further.

Types of complaints

There are three grounds which you can use when complaining about a licensed conveyancer. These are poor service, negligence and professional misconduct:

Poor service

Poor service is a broad concept that is likely to cover complaints that arise where a conveyancer has:

  • Not done what you instructed them to do
  • Caused unreasonable delays
  • Given you inaccurate or incomplete information
  • Failed to reply to your correspondence or keep you updated on your case
  • Managed your case unprofessionally
  • Been rude to you
  • Failed to give you enough information about his or her charges before they start your case
  • Failed to give you a final bill
  • Presented you with an excessive bill

Please note that the above is not an exhaustive list and is for illustration only. If you have any questions in relation to poor service then you can also contact the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) (see below).

Negligence

Negligence is when your conveyancer has either failed to work to the same standard that a conveyancer should reasonably have done, or has acted in a way that a conveyancer should not have done in the circumstances.

If you are unhappy with your conveyancer's response to your complaint of negligence, you have two options for escalating your complaint.

1. Seek compensation for the loss you suffered due to your conveyancer's negligence by approaching the court. This you would do by suing your conveyancer. However, in determining how much compensation to award, the court would only consider the financial loss you suffered as a result of the negligence of your conveyancer. The court would not take into account the distress and inconvenience which you suffered.

2. In England and Wales, you can seek compensation by complaining to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO). Any negligence of a conveyancer should also amount to inadequate professional service. In assessing how much compensation to award, the LeO would consider two categories of loss. These are both the financial loss and the distress and inconvenience you suffered as a result of the conveyancer's negligence. The LeO may also take any aggravating circumstances into consideration when determining the level of compensation. Although there is no punitive award, the award would be higher if the negligence resulted in inadequate professional service persisting over an extended period.

The maximum amount (for both financial loss and distress and inconvenience) that the LeO may award is £30,000 (although most complaints would involve much smaller amounts). However, it may also disallow all or part of the conveyancer's bill (or require corrective action to be taken).

Professional misconduct

All conveyancers must act in accordance with their professional code of conduct. If your conveyancer acts contrary to this code, then they may have committed professional misconduct. For example, if your conveyancer commits one of the following acts then they will generally be guilty of professional misconduct:

  • Failing to keep information confidential
  • Dropping a case at short notice without good reason
  • Acting against your instructions or best interests
  • Causing serious delay
  • Acting dishonestly or in a way that damages the profession's reputation.
For more information about the code of conduct and professional misconduct, see the website of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers

The LeO will not deal with a complaint relating to a conveyancer's professional misconduct, but will refer this to the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC). However the LeO will in some cases, while considering whether to refer your complaint of professional misconduct to the CLC, also consider whether the conveyancer gave you poor service.

Compensation

When setting out the nature of your complaint, you must also ensure that you indicate how your complaint may be resolved. In setting out how exactly you would like to resolve your complaint, please consider the following remedies (not an exhaustive list):

  • A total refund or reduction of your bill, or a reasonable amount of financial compensation
  • A written apology
  • Corrective action be taken in relation to your matter

Please note that there are no limitations upon the type of remedy or the amount of compensation that you can request in an initial letter of complaint. However, should your complaint proceed to the Legal Ombudsman (see below), the type of remedy that you are entitled to will be restricted.

Next steps

Legal Ombudsman - LeO (England & Wales)

Please note that the LeO may only deal with complaints relating to legal service providers situated in England and Wales.

Before taking further action, you are advised to give your conveyancer 8 weeks to resolve your complaint. If you do not hear from your conveyancer (or the person nominated to manage your complaint), or you are not satisfied with his or her final response, then you may consider taking further action.

The action that you take will depend upon the nature of your complaint and you are therefore advised to contact the LeO for further guidance. Alternatively you can set out your complaint in a letter.

The LeO will either deal with your complaint themselves, or refer it to the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) (which deals with allegations of professional misconduct), or may advise you to obtain legal advice so that you can consider court action.

The LeO will not deal with your complaint unless you have first complained to your conveyancer and have given them at least 8 weeks to resolve your complaint. Once the 8 weeks have passed, the LeO will deal with your complaint if your conveyancer has not resolved your complaint to your satisfaction.

It is important to note that time limits will apply to your complaint. Where your complaint, or elements of it, relate to poor service or negligence, you must contact the LeO within six months of your last contact with your conveyancer. However, overall, you should complain to the LeO within 12 months of becoming aware of the issues that have given rise to your complaint. If your complaint, or elements of it, relate to professional misconduct, you must contact the LeO within six months of the misconduct having taken place, as they will refer this to the CLC.

If you are concerned about such time limits, then contact the Legal Ombudsman.

Once the LeO has made its decision, it has the power to:

  • Request the conveyancer to apologise to you
  • Ask the conveyancer to return your documents to you
  • Instruct the conveyancer to rectify his/her work by doing more work (if doing so would resolve the complaint)
  • Compel the conveyancer to reduce his/her legal fees
  • Compel the conveyancer to pay you compensation for any financial loss or bad treatment, up to a maximum of £30,000

You can visit the Legal Ombudsman website for more information.

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers

You can visit the website for more information.