In this quarter’s published decisions you will find that around a third of cases stem from residential conveyancing transactions. This is pretty much in line with our statistics generally - there are always far more complaints about this business area than any other.
Two of these complaints are particularly worth noting.
Complaint 16/30 is an unfortunate situation where it would appear that, in acting for the sellers of a property, the firm was unwittingly the vehicle of a fraud. The offence was perpetrated by one of their clients forging the signature of the other who was, in reality, unaware of the sale. The firm considered that it had instructions, and was acting, on behalf of both clients. However, it had failed to take proper steps to ensure that direct contact had been made with both individuals. That included inadequate money laundering checks and a failure to secure joint authority regarding the dispersal of the free proceeds from the sale....which, perhaps unsurprisingly in hindsight, were paid in full to the defrauding client.
In relation to such hazards, Paterson and Ritchie remind us that “It is important to ensure that instructions are obtained from all joint owners and that those instructions coincide.“ (7.15.09)
The other case to consider is 16/35. Again acting for a seller, the firm had been instructed to offer the purchasers some kitchen appliances and, for some reason, didn’t do so. What makes this noteworthy is the fact that, when the client expressed dissatisfaction, and made a complaint to the firm, the firm’s Client Relations Manager did...... nothing. As a result, the complainer included a further complaint about the firm’s failure to respond to the initial complaint, and this too was upheld.
This highlights the importance of dealing properly with complaints at first tier - or at the very least acknowledging and responding to them. This extends to complaints from third parties which should not be ignored - albeit you may be limited in your response due to your duty of confidentiality to your own client. However, not responding at all, or not keeping to the terms of your own complaints handling procedure, can lead to further heads of complaint which are, quite often, upheld - even where the initial issue and cause of dissatisfaction has not been.
So why double trouble?
Well, the lessons to learn are:
- When acting for two clients, double care is required
- Don’t let how you deal with a complaint land you with a double whammy