In December 2019 the Office of Legal Complaints (OLC) consulted on its three-year Corporate Strategy for 2020-23 and high-level business plan for 2020-21.
The Strategy paper revealed three new strategic objectives:
- Improving the experience of its service for complainants and service providers while using its expertise to guide and add value to the complaint journey
- Increasing the transparency and impact of its casework to support greater access to justice
- Developing its service to ensure it is appropriate for the evolving legal sector
The consultation document also included a proposal from the OLC for a budget increase for 2020/21 from £12.35m to £14.76m. This would represent a 20% increase to the existing budget, with a slight reduction in the subsequent two years to that figure. The consultation paper also indicates that the increased budget of £2.4m would be used to fund more operational staff who would be needed to deal with the increased case closures (£1.2m), investment in feedback to the profession (£0.4m) and the remainder to IT costs and inflation (£0.8).
As key stakeholders we are keen to understand the Legal Ombudsman’s (LeO) performance and would like more transparent and comprehensive information which in turn would help us provide more effective feedback on its strategy.
The Law Society agrees that LeO’s primary focus should be improving the service experience for all of its users; both legal service users and service providers. Whilst we are pleased to note that LeO has made a number of improvements, through its modernisation programme, we remain concerned about its overall performance.
The OLC is seeking a significant budget increase but has not provided information about how the increase will be funded or any evidence-based explanation or assurance that this will result in a clear improvement in service delivery both to legal service users and providers. In the latter case it needs to address the professions’ main concerns namely delays in investigation and decision-making, firms being given unrealistic time scales to respond to LeO correspondence, inconsistent decisions and a failure to keep service providers informed.
The OLC also indicates that it wishes to invest in more feedback to the profession. Whilst we support any feedback which can be given to our members to prevent complaints arising there is a lack of information about the level of additional resources required or how they would be deployed. It is therefore difficult to evaluate whether resources would be better directed towards addressing LeO’s service issues and backlog, rather than providing additional feedback, at least until such time as the service issues have been resolved. In this respect LeO set out some ambitious feedback and reporting options in its Transparency and Reporting Impact discussion paper. These options were explored in detail and our Response fully sets out our views.
Any increase in the budget is likely to impact on practising certificate fees and there is little appetite in the profession for any such measures, particularly in the prevailing economic and political climate. As our response indicates there could be repercussions on access to justice and accordingly, we cannot support the OLC’s proposed increase at this level.