Towards the publication of complaints data

Sarah ChambersI was pleased that one of my first meetings as the recently appointed Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel was a Roundtable event which explored how legal services regulators could use data about complaints. The meeting drew heavily on experiences from other sectors, and highlighted, to varying degrees, how consumers, their representatives, businesses, and indeed regulators have used complaints data. We did not shy away from the challenges, in particular about the need to guard against the collation of mass and meaningless information.

The Panel has been an advocate of improved transparency in the legal services sector for some time. In recent years we have focused on price transparency and information on quality because these are key choice factors for consumers. Our Open Data report of 2016 made a raft of recommendations targeted at improving access to price and quality information. In late 2016 we supported the Competition & Markets Authority’s finding that competition is not working well in the legal services sector. The CMA said consumers lack the information they need to make informed decisions. In the wake of the CMA report, the Panel repeated its commitment to transparency and to support the regulators in their plans to implement the CMA remedies.

We are glad to note that most of the regulators have now moved towards imposing price transparency. This is real progress. It also sets the precedent for regulators to work together towards other transparency measures. Transparency on quality is particularly important to the Panel and we would like to see this in the next phase. We have always said that information on price and quality are interlinked. Without information on quality, price transparency could perpetuate consumers’ misconception that price equates with quality, with some consumers thinking higher-priced services are necessarily better.

We know that there is no single blueprint for information provision – no template that can simply be replicated. We recognise that there are challenges for each regulator, and that information must be contextualised to make it meaningful for both consumers and businesses. But difficult isn’t impossible, as evidenced by the progress made with price transparency. Regulators and businesses must do more to understand what bothers consumers. They must find out what consumers prioritise and make concerted efforts to present this information in the most effective way.

Regulators now have a wealth of experience from various sectors to help them prepare for the next phase. For example, the importance of consumer research and the need for a whole-market solution where feasible, adapting approaches from other sectors and recognising that a one-size- fits-all approach is not always appropriate.

The transparency agenda is central to the Panel’s current strategy, and we will continue to advise and challenge the regulators to ensure that developments in this area deliver good outcomes for consumers.