Government officials are to meet with regulators this week to arrange contingency plans for an alternative to the Legal Ombudsman.
A three-way meeting between the Ministry of Justice, the Legal Services Board and the Office for Legal Complaints is scheduled to take place tomorrow to discuss alternative redress structures, in the event that the struggling ombudsman service cannot be revived.
The LSB is keen to stress this does not necessarily mean that another organisation is inevitable, but the fact a meeting is happening at all points to serious ongoing concerns about whether the Legal Ombudsman has a future.
LSB chief executive Matthew Hill, writing in his progress report to the board this week, said: ‘As outlined in the sector-wide strategy, our hope remains that under its much-strengthened leadership the Legal Ombudsman’s performance will recover on a sustainable basis, but it is prudent to consider alternatives on a parallel planning basis.’
The LSB board is set to hear initial feedback next month on the ombudsman’s efforts to improve performance, with a draft budget application due to be considered in November.
Earlier this year, a 13% increase in the budget was finally signed off by the oversight regulator, but with it came an ultimatum that should promised benefits not materialise, they would be justified in calling on the government to pursue ‘alternative arrangements’.
The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated existing problems with the complaint handler over delays in resolving cases and a high turnover of staff.
In May, it emerged that some complainants were being told they may have to wait up to 14 months for their case to even be opened. Documents published in July revealed that the number of outstanding cases had almost doubled in a year to 4,829 by the end of March 2021. The ombudsman closed significantly fewer cases during 2020/21, down from 6,343 to 4,829.
The ombudsman has committed to turning about performance and reducing the outstanding caseload. The new strategy includes offering complainants with a ‘good opportunity to reflect’ and assess if there is anything further they can do to resolve their issue.
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