‘Anger and frustration’ at SLCC budget plans
Plans from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to increase its annual levy by eight times the rate of inflation have caused unprecedented “anger and frustration” within the legal profession, the Law Society of Scotland said today.
In its detailed response to the SLCC’s draft budget consultation, the professional body for Scottish solicitors said the cost hike on individual solicitors was unacceptable when the rest of the public sector was controlling costs and undertaking strict financial discipline.
The SLCC said in response that it was “disappointed” with the Law Society’s stance, adding: “The underlying reason for the proposed levy increase is a 12 per cent rise in complaints against lawyers over the past year, many of which are complex cases that take significant resources to resolve. After five years of SLCC discounting fees by using reserves we now have no choice but to increase it in order to continue serving the public properly.”
However, the Law Society disputed this, arguing that recent rises in the numbers of legal complaints equated to only a handful extra each week. Such numbers should be accommodated within existing budgets, the society said.
The SLCC also said the proposed increase “is equivalent to only five per cent” and that this “equates to an annual increase from £332 to £368, a rise of £36 – and applies to around half of those the levy is paid by”.
For advocates, the increase is of £24 while for in-house lawyers it is £15.
But chief executive of the Law Society, Lorna Jack argued that the increase is too high: “At the heart of the concern is the proposal to increase the annual levy by 12.5 per cent, almost eight times the rate of inflation. In all the years of consulting with solicitors on successive SLCC budgets, we have never experienced such anger in response.
“There is real frustration that the SLCC is coming forward with a substantial increase in its budget at a time when the public sector is facing pressure to control its costs and undertake such strict financial discipline.
“We find it difficult to believe this kind of rise would be suggested or approved if the SLCC was funded by taxpayers’ money instead of a levy on the legal profession. Whilst it is solicitors who fund the vast majority of the SLCC’s spending, consumers should also be concerned as it is clients who ultimately pay through their solicitors’ fees.
“The concern is particularly acute in the public sector, including central and local government as well as the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service, where huge pressure exists on budgets and every line of cost is open to scrutiny and challenge. There are also challenges for solicitors working in legal aid and where some of the smallest firms already find it difficult to sustain their practices.”
The SLCC has argued that recent increases in complaints against solicitors required an increased budget.
Ms Jack added: “The additional complaints recorded in the SLCC’s last annual report equate to an extra two to three complaints a week. We find it difficult to understand how this cannot be absorbed in existing budgets. Indeed, the commission’s own figures show that almost two thirds of complaints received are ineligible and do not proceed.
“This is why we urge the SLCC board to revisit its planned budget for the coming year. Although there is no external, independent oversight of the SLCC, we hope our response along with voices of others will convince the SLCC board to think again.”
A spokesperson for the SLCC said: “We welcome debate across the profession about how the process can be speeded up and streamlined to improve the experience and outcomes for consumers and lawyers, and the best way to reduce cost would be to work together to improve the process and reduce the common causes of complaints.
“Our board will meet later in March to fully consider all responses received to this consultation.”