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Resolving complaints about solicitors

Examples of compensation for distress and inconvenience

The examples below will give you an indication of the amount of compensation you might receive


Compensation for these cases will usually be up to £250.

Example 1

Mr A instructed a solicitor to represent him in appealing his criminal conviction. The solicitor failed to respond to two letters in which Mr A asked whether the solicitor had seen certain documents which he considered to be crucial to his appeal.

The solicitor replied to Mr A's letters but did not tell him whether or not they had seen these documents. The solicitor thought there was enough evidence for them to decide whether the appeal was likely to be successful and they didn't need any other documents. They should have answered the points raised in Mr A's letters.

We awarded Ј100 for distress and inconvenience.

Example 2

A solicitor was acting for Mrs B in her divorce. Mrs B and her husband had agreed a consent order (an agreement on how money, property and so on would be split) but Mr B didn't keep to the order. The matter needed to go to court to decide what to do next. The solicitor told Mrs B about the hearing, but when she arrived at court, she found that the hearing had been adjourned (put on hold until another date).

We awarded Mrs B Ј150 to compensate her for the inconvenience and anxiety caused by going to court and finding that the hearing had been adjourned.

Example 3

Mr C instructed a solicitor when buying an apartment. The solicitor delayed in sending the stamp duty form to HM Revenue and Customs and so a Ј100 penalty was due.

The solicitor agreed to pay the penalty and also pay Ј100 compensation. The solicitor then delayed paying the penalty and didn't pay the agreed compensation to Mr C.

We awarded Mr C Ј200 because the solicitor's delay in paying the agreed amount to Mr C increased his distress.

Example 4

Ms D and Ms E jointly instructed a solicitor when buying a house. The solicitor lost most of their file and when Ms D and Ms E complained, the solicitor took seven months to reply.

We felt that the loss of the file would have caused distress and inconvenience to Ms D and Ms E and that this would have been increased by the solicitor's long delay in replying to their complaint. We awarded Ms D and Ms E Ј250 each.


Compensation in these cases will usually be between £250 and £600.

Example 1

A solicitor's firm acted for Mr A in a claim against his builders. The firm delayed in telling Mr A the solicitor dealing with his case had changed, they did not deal with his letter of complaint, and they didn't provide enough information about costs. In particular, the firm didn't keep Mr A up to date on how his costs were rising, and led him to believe that his barrister's fees would be Ј600 but then billed him for Ј1645.

We awarded Mr A compensation of Ј400 for significant distress and inconvenience, limited the solicitor's costs to their original estimate, and also said that Mr A only had to pay Ј600 for the barrister's fees.

Example 2

Mr B was the chairman of a company which instructed a solicitor to deal with landlord and tenant issues and an issue relating to buying a property. The solicitor

  • delayed in sending a letter explaining their charges
  • didn't provide updates of costs
  • delayed in sending a completion statement (a list of all the money that has to be paid before you can own the property)
  • took money for their costs from the firm's client account (an account containing money which the firm are holding on behalf of their clients) without sending Mr B a bill beforehand

We felt that the effect of taking the costs and the delay in sending the completion statement were minor, but that the issue of not keeping Mr B up to date with charges was more significant, and that compensation of Ј500 was appropriate.

Mr B's company was the solicitor's client and a company cannot suffer distress. But Mr B, as the chairman, had suffered inconvenience as a result of the solicitor's poor service. This interfered with his usual work for the company, and so the award was intended to compensate the company for this disruption and not Mr B personally.

Find out more on what we can do to help with complaints from companies or charities

Example 3

Mrs S instructed a solicitor to remove her husband's name from the title deeds to her property, and to carry out a re-mortgage. The solicitor told her that there would be no stamp duty for this matter. After the matter was completed, Mrs S found that the work had not been done properly, and she had to pay Ј935.77 to a new solicitor to put things right. She also had to pay stamp duty of Ј935.

We decided that if Mrs S had been given the correct advice about stamp duty, she would still have had to go ahead with the work, and would always have had to pay this.

However, Mrs S suffered shock and distress when she found out she had to pay the stamp duty, and when she found that the work had not been done properly. We awarded her Ј500 compensation and told the solicitor to pay the Ј935.77 costs of putting the work right.

Example 4

While in prison, Mr E instructed a solicitor about getting contact with his children. The solicitor

  • didn't progress the application for public funding (public funding is provided by the Legal Services Commission to people who are on a low income to help them pay for their case)
  • didn't keep Mr E up to date about what was going on
  • didn't reply to Mr E's letter of complaint for 10 weeks

Mr E's distress was made worse by the fact that as a prisoner, he could not call in to see the solicitor to chase up progress. He was left in the dark for a very long time with no reply to requests for information. We awarded Ј600 compensation.


Compensation in these cases will usually be between £600 and £1,500.

Example 1

A solicitor acted for Mrs A in buying a house. The service was poor in many ways. The solicitor

  • failed to tell Mrs A what the costs would be
  • delayed dealing with the purchase for 14 months and failed to register it at The Land Registry
  • failed to reply to Mrs A's letters
  • failed to send a bill
  • failed to deal with Mrs A's complaint

We felt that Mrs A had suffered serious distress and inconvenience and awarded her Ј750 compensation.

We also told the solicitors to pay Ј221.54 for a new solicitor to put things right, and Ј40 for interest on Mrs A's money which the solicitor had held.

Example 2

Mrs B's husband had died and she and the solicitor were the executors of the estate (the person appointed to carry out the instructions of the person who has died).

The solicitor didn't meet with Mrs B in the beginning, and didn't tell her about costs, or what work was involved. Mrs B was concerned and confused throughout the time the solicitor was acting for her, at what was already an upsetting time.

The solicitor made slow progress and they did not take the initiative when dealing with the estate. The solicitor took a year to follow one of the instructions of the will, which was to tell Mr B's ex-wife about his death. In the end Mrs B had to do this herself.

The solicitor had acknowledged some of their poor service before Mrs B complained to us, and had already greatly reduced the bill. We felt that compensation of Ј750 was the right amount in these circumstances.

Example 3

Mrs C instructed a solicitor about her divorce and related financial matters. The solicitor provided an extremely poor service, mainly relating to costs. The solicitor gave Mrs C misleading and inaccurate information about their charges and how much money they would need to hold towards costs. They did not assess whether the cost of the financial proceedings would be covered if Mrs C won her case, so Mrs C had no real idea about whether it was worth carrying on with the case.

Only three days before a court hearing, the solicitor asked Mrs C for a large amount of money for a barrister's fees and put inappropriate pressure on her to find this money at very short notice. When Mrs C changed solicitor, the original firm continued to do work on her file, and billed her for this work. Mrs C's complaint about all of this was not taken seriously by the firm, who offered her Ј170 compensation.

We felt that Ј1000 was appropriate compensation for the serious distress and inconvenience suffered by Mrs C. Also, Mrs C should not have had to pay for work done after she had changed solicitor. We reduced the bill by 15% (Ј2233.08).

Extremely serious

Compensation in this category will usually be between £1,500 and Ј15,000. However, most awards at the higher end of this scale would be for financial effects and, as you can see from the examples below, most awards for distress and inconvenience are at the bottom end of the scale.

Example 1

Ms A was a social worker looking after two Vietnamese asylum seekers, Miss N and Miss P, who were both under 18. Ms A instructed the solicitors to deal with the two applications for political asylum, but they took no real steps to deal with this for 12 months. Also, the solicitors failed to keep Ms A informed and failed to respond to her letters and phone calls. When Ms A made a complaint about the solicitor's service, the solicitors acknowledged the letter but failed to respond to the specific concerns raised. They also failed to co-operate with our investigation.

Ms A wrote to the solicitors several times pointing out that both Miss N and Miss P were extremely anxious and distressed because of the continued failure to give them any information on their immigration status. This was made worse because of recent reports in the newspapers of children in similar circumstances being deported.

We decided the solicitors should pay compensation of Ј1,500 to Miss N and Ј1,500 to Miss P.

Example 2

Mrs C asked a solicitor to deal with the financial side of her divorce and set up a trust to provide enough money to pay for care for her disabled daughter. Over the seven months the solicitor acted for Mrs C, nothing was done to set up the trust, and the solicitor didn't reply to her letters, including her letter of complaint.

The solicitor sent Ј6500 of Mrs C's money to the Legal Services Commission to cover her potential costs of about Ј1300 for her divorce. Six years later the solicitor had still not prepared a bill to allow the Legal Services Commission to assess the costs and release the remaining money to Mrs C.

Mrs C had been deprived of at least Ј5000 of her own money because of the solicitor's delay in sending her a bill. In fact, we decided that the solicitor had done no work of any value for Mrs C, and had had long enough to bill her, so they should not charge any costs at all.

Mrs C suffered extremely serious distress and inconvenience as a result of the solicitor not following her simple instructions. She was worried that the delay in setting up the trust and getting the Ј5000 from the Legal Services Commission could affect her daughter's care. The solicitor's failure to deal with her complaint made matters worse. Compensation of Ј2500 was justified.

We also asked the Solicitors Regulation Authority to consider the solicitor's conduct in not co-operating with our investigation.

Example 3

Mr D was involved in a cycling accident in which he suffered very serious injuries. He instructed solicitors to bring a personal injury claim against the owner of the land where the accident happened.

He agreed with the solicitors that he would fund his claim using a conditional fee agreement, which was supported by insurance that Mr D understood would cover all the costs if the claim was not successful.

The solicitors corresponded with the landowner. Both sides gathered evidence about the accident and surrounding circumstances. About a year later, after receiving new evidence from the landowner, the solicitors reconsidered Mr D's chances of success with his claim and advised him not to continue with it. This would mean Mr D would be responsible for all the costs up to that point. The landowner's costs were covered by the insurance but the cover was not enough to pay out for his own costs as well. Mr D had to find Ј40,000 from his own funds to pay the expenses run up by his own solicitors, including the cost of getting various expert reports and advice from a leading barrister.

Mr D was not happy that the solicitors hadn't explained to him that the insurance was not sufficient to cover all the costs involved. We decided that although the solicitors felt the insurance cover was adequate at the start, they should have reviewed it and advised Mr D as soon as it became clear that it may not be enough. We also agreed with Mr D that the solicitors should have asked about increasing the insurance cover earlier. By the time they did so it was clear that Mr D could not continue with his claim so it was too late to get extra insurance.

Mr D experienced considerable distress as a result of being faced with an unexpected and very large bill and we awarded Ј5,000 compensation. We did not reduce the costs as these arose from dealing with the case up to the point where new evidence showed that it was not worth pursuing further.

Example 4

The firm acted for Mr M when he bought a flat in London. The original property had been converted into two flats. After the sale had gone through there were delays in completing the legal formalities. Mr M then discovered that there was no planning permission for converting the original property into flats. Following enforcement action by the local authority, the landlord was forced to convert the two flats back into one property.

We discovered the firm had failed to carry out a local authority search and failed to enquire about planning permission for converting the property to flats. Checking on the 'legal title' of the property being bought is a clear obligation of the solicitor and had not been done in this case. We also decided that the firm had failed to keep Mr M properly informed about what was happening during the buying process and had delayed in dealing with the legal formalities after the sale was completed.

It appeared Mr M would lose the flat and he had instructed new solicitors to try and recover his financial losses either from the landlord or the legal firm. We awarded compensation for the financial loss that was already clear (Ј200 to cover the stamp duty penalty for late payment of stamp duty). We also awarded him Ј14,800 for the distress suffered both during the transaction and as a result of losing his home. This made the total compensation Ј15,000, which is the maximum we can award.