Office of Legal Complaints business plan and budget 2021/22 – Law Society response

The proposals

In November 2020, the Office of Legal Complaints (OLC) consulted on its business plan and budget 2021/22 for the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) service.

The business plan identifies the following three parallel priorities for the year 2021/22, in which LeO proposes to:

  • stabilise operational delivery and reduce wait times in the pre-assessment pool (PAP)
  • develop innovative ways to deliver the service more efficiently and keep pace with evolving legal sector and consumer expectations
  • increase the impact of casework by providing learning and feedback to the legal sector

The business plan also includes a proposal to increase LeO’s budget from £12.808 million to £15.26 million for 2021/22. It proposes a further budget raise for 2022/23 to £16.163 million.

The consultation indicates that the 2021/22 budget would be used to:

  • fund more operational staff (£10.82 million)
  • develop innovative ways to deliver its service (£0.15 million)
  • invest in learning and feedback to the profession (£0.43 million) and the remainder pay for corporate functions, transformation and business support (£3.86 million)

Our view

We do not believe that the above-mentioned priorities are of equal importance.

We believe that the critical priority is for LeO to reduce its backlog and resolve complaints in a timely manner for its service users. Accordingly, this should be the primary focus for LeO for now.

It’s acknowledged that LeO, like all organisations, is operating in a very challenging environment with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is also recognised that the plan contains well-intentioned and ambitious plans to get LeO back on track.

However, we’re concerned about the steep rise in its backlog and low closure rates over the past year.

Performance issues existed before the pandemic and we question how much of LeO’s current difficulties are as a direct result of the effects of COVID-19 crisis, as opposed to management and operational issues.

The business plan sets out ambitious goals for LeO to reduce the PAP and increase the number of complaints it resolves.

However, the figures in the plan indicate improvement far above the levels which LeO has previously managed to achieve.

Without providing the data underpinning its assessments and projections we question whether the forecasts are realistic.

We believe LeO needs to:

  • be clearer about the causes of its current poor performance
  • tackle its human resources issues (such as staff morale and attrition)
  • look at its processes and see what savings and efficiencies can be made

before considering any recruitment strategy, as we’re very concerned about the scale and costs in staff resources proposed in the plan.

Alternative delivery approaches

The business plan proposes piloting alternative delivery approaches.

However, we’re unable to say whether this is an appropriate priority at this time for the OLC or not due to the lack of detail about:

  • what will be involved
  • how much impact this may have on the investigation process
  • what costs/benefits analysis has been carried out to scope out these projects

However, we’re happy to reconsider this proposal if more information is provided to help us understand the benefits and give our support.

As we have said previously, we support any feedback which can be given to our members to prevent complaints arising and we’re happy to work in collaboration with LeO to do so.

However, the paramount priority for LeO must be to address its service issues and backlog.

Budget increases

The plan proposes a budget increase for 2021/22 to 15.26 million (representing a 19% rise).

We’re concerned about these figures and cannot support the amounts being requested bearing in mind:

  • LeO’s performance levels and staffing issues
  • the lack of evidence-based information to substantiate the proposals and forecasts
  • the prevailing economic conditions which our members are operating under
  • the possibility of alternative sources of funding for the OLC to consider

What this means for solicitors

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 15 January 2021.

The Legal Services Board will consider responses to the consultation from all stakeholders before deciding on how to proceed.

Read the consultation on the OLC website

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