Regulation

Office for Legal Complaints business plan 2022/23 – Law Society response

The proposals

In November 2021, the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) consulted on its business plan and budget 2022/23 for the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) service.

The business plan outlines three priorities for LeO for the business year ahead:

  • support existing staff to increase performance and productivity
  • identify innovation opportunities that speed up the complaints process
  • focus learning and insight work on providers who require support to prevent and resolve complaints

LeO states that it has encountered several internal and external challenges that have impacted on its performance this year. This includes not being able to recruit the right calibre and number of investigators that it had planned for.

Consequently, LeO’s performance is much lower than predicted in last year’s business plan and the backlog of cases waiting to be investigated has increased.

The OLC says it will consider more radical options to improve its performance, but these would need a change to legislation and to its scheme rules.

The business plan also includes a proposal to further increase LeO’s budget.

Our view

Business plan

We agree that it’s an important priority to support and develop new and existing staff, and some of the measures in the consultation seem sensible.

However, LeO must definitively address the underlying causes of staff underperformance, as well as high sickness and attrition levels, to make sure it keeps up with the demand for its service.

The projections for performance for 2022/23 appear overambitious to us.

Whilst we support LeO’s aspiration to improve and to do so quickly, experience suggests that without a fundamental change to the current complaints’ regime, gains at the organisational level are likely to be moderate.

We would suggest that a greater degree of realism about the outlined targets is needed.

Reducing the backlog of cases waiting to be investigated needs to remain a priority.

To address this, LeO needs to take some radical steps but must do quickly if it’s to avoid reputational risks to the profession and a reduction in public confidence in the ombudsman scheme.

We would support legislative changes that would allow it to outsource or amend its scheme rules to help reduce the backlog.

This would also lead to faster resolutions for customers and cost savings for the organisation.

LeO also needs to:

  • find more efficient ways of providing a signposting service to calls that are outside the scope of its jurisdiction
  • make better use of its human resources
  • deprioritise learning and insight work until its performance has substantially improved

The business plan refers to extending the scope of LeO’s services to cover unregulated providers.

We would argue that an extension should not be considered until performance issues are in hand and that the regulated sector should not shoulder any associated costs.

Budget increase

The plan proposes a budget increase for 2022/23.

We’re concerned about any further increase to LeO’s budget bearing in mind:

  • LeO’s performance levels
  • the fact that it underspent its budget for 2021/22
  • the prevailing economic challenges which our members are operating under

What this means for solicitors

LeO’s performance levels are still a concern.

While the backlog of cases is still increasing, there could be reputational risks to the profession and a reduction in public confidence in the Ombudsman Scheme.

LeO has and is continuing to look for innovative opportunities to speed up the complaints process, but this will not bring about the steep improvement in its performance that the profession desires.

LeO must take some radical action if it’s going to keep up with demand and reduce the number of cases in the backlog.

We would support such measures as it will speed up the complaints process for both consumers and our members.

Any increase in the budget is likely to have an impact on practising certificate fees.

There is little appetite in the profession for any such measures, particularly in the current economic climate.

Next steps

The consultation closed on 13 December 2021.

The OLC will consider responses to the consultation from all stakeholders before deciding whether it wishes to amend its plan before consideration by the Legal Services Board.

Read the consultation on the LeO website

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