The Legal Ombudsman has vowed to improve performance following a sharp deterioration in the timeliness with which the complaints watchdog handles cases.

In March this year, according to its 2017/2018 annual report, LeO resolved 9% of cases within 90 days, against a target of 60%. In the same month, 63% of cases were resolved within 180 days (the target was 90%) and 7% of cases were still not resolved within a year. In total, the ombudsman missed its time targets in every month of 2017/18  and for each performance indicator.

In the report,  laid before parliament today, LeO blames a range of factors for the decline in performance, including an unexpected increase in demand, unusually high levels of sickness and turnover. Bedding in a ’modernisation programme’ also increased the time that cases spent waiting for an investigation to commence, particularly towards the end of the year.

Wanda Goldwag, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, said the organisation must convert recent investment in the service into tangible improvements in productivity, performance and quality. ‘The OLC is under no illusion about the scale of the task and recognises that it will take time to address the Legal Ombudsman’s current challenges, particularly if case numbers and complexity continue to increase in the legal jurisdiction.’

Irrespective of actual outcomes, timeliness may not be such an issue in next year’s report, as chief ombudsman Rebecca Marsh later confirmed that LeO will be changing the way that it measures performance, with the introduction of a ‘more balanced suite of [performance indicators] and stretching, but realistic, objectives’. 

According to the report, the number complaints accepted for investigation increased by 4% to 7,527 last year. This was 8% more than the ombudsman had budgeted for. Residential conveyancing and personal injury are again the most complained-about areas of legal services, each taking up a bigger proportion of cases in 2017/18 than the previous year.

The most common cause for complaint about lawyers was delays or failure to progress a case, ahead of failure to advise and failure to follow instructions.