The Legal Ombudsman is likely to miss key timeliness targets for several months while changes to working practices take effect.
A report prepared for this month’s Legal Services Board meeting reveals that the ombudsman's office is failing to resolve enough cases within a 90-day limit.
Under the Legal Services Act which created it, the complaints-handler should resolve 60% of cases within 90 days. It managed 57% in June and 52% in July.
The LSB, the oversight regulator, had requested the information after ordering a review of missed performance targets earlier this year.
The report says the Office for Legal Complaints has cited three factors in failing to meet its timeliness target.
These include changes to workload management, changes to working practices and technical difficulties with new case management systems.
‘Together, these changes have contributed to a failure to meet the 90-day target and are likely to do so for several months before the predicted beneficial impacts of changes made become evident,’ the report says.
The LSB warned in June that structural and management changes at the ombudsman service created a risk of damage to its performance.
OLC chair Steve Green said the organisation has already saved money by moving to new premises and implemented a new case management system, but accepted there may be ‘short-term impacts’.
In a letter sent last month to the LSB, Green stressed the underlying principle remains to ensure that consumers and lawyers experience a ‘timely and responsive’ service while ensuring targets do not result in clients feeling rushed through the process.
Green also confirmed that the Office for Legal Complaints has commissioned a review of the ombudsman’s governance arrangements from accountancy firm Grant Thornton.
This review is scheduled for completion by the end of October and a final report is set to be presented on 1 November.
The ombudsman is already consulting on changes to its scheme to enable it to become a provider of alternative business dispute services under the EU consumer ADR directive. It put its application to become an ‘ADR entity’ on hold last month after it had underestimated the changes required.
The organisation has filled half of its management vacancies, after appointing Nick Hawkins as chief executive last month. The role of chief ombudsman has yet to be filled.