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Ombudsman confident of huge improvements within 18 months

By John Hyde >>

(20 July 2022)

The body running the legal ombudsman service says it is on course to slash waiting times within the next 18 months – having delivered a massive jump in case closures this year.

The Office for Legal Complaints said the current year will see a 40% annual increase in case closures to more than 10,000. This prediction appears in the annual report for 2020/21, published today. It acknowledges that problems still existed earlier this year but said that 2022/23 is the ‘key turning point’ for reducing waiting times.

By March 2024, the pre-assessment pool of unopened cases is predicted to have fallen from 5,862 recorded this year to between 500 and 1,000. The organisation says that 60% of cases will be dealt with in an average of 120 days – to put that into context, 65% of low complexity cases were resolved in 325 days last year, while 63% of medium complexity complaints were resolved in 500 days.

Introducing the annual report, chief ombudsman Paul McFadden said: ‘The foundations we have laid in 2021/22 have put LeO in a far stronger position to achieve our future aims for our customers. While there is more work to be done, we can look forward with confidence and a sense of real momentum.’

The ombudsman appears to be staking much of its optimism on its early resolution scheme, which aims to identify which cases can be resolved quickly and prevent them clogging up the system.

Pilots to test out early resolution schemes were made permanent last October and from December resources were shifted to support a greater focus on reaching a proportionate outcome at the earliest opportunity by creating an extra front-end team. LeO expects early resolution initiatives to account for nearly a third (32%) of all case closures in 2022/23, against 18% in 2021/22.

But despite the upbeat message, the annual report for 2021/22 cannot disguise the long-term problems that continued to plague the organisation.

The ombudsman operated across the year with only 84% of the full-time staff required (more have since been recruited), and the report acknowledges that its inability to attract and retain the required number of people had a ‘significant impact’ on potential improvements. LeO also said it recognises it does not currently have a competitive reward offer to stop workers from looking elsewhere.

The average number of days per employee lost to sickness was 16 – up from 12 in 2020/21 – which is well above the national average. The OLC said the increase in sickness absence in 2021/22 was primarily driven by the long-term absence of a small number of staff.

The highest paid director’s salary in 2021/22 increased by 8.7% from the previous financial year, taking their annual salary from £110,000 – £115,000 to £115,000 – £120,000.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)