The Legal Ombudsman’s office has been warned that staff may leave the organisation over the ongoing uncertainty about expenses reimbursements.
The Legal Services Board has told the Office for Legal Complaints that its proposed annual budget for 2015/16 could be under threat from staff turnover varying ‘significantly’ from that planned.
The National Audit Office (NAO) this year decided to classify the organisation’s benefit scheme as ‘novel and contentious’, and the LSB has warned that new expenses rules, which are not specified, have caused ‘uncertainty’ about staff remuneration.
In a report presented to the LSB in March and published this week, LSB corporate director Julie Myers said until the position is ‘regularised’ there will be ‘additional pressures on turnover levels’.
Myers also recommended that the LSB ask the ombudsman’s office about any impact on ‘morale’ on staff of the qualification of accounts and recent changes to senior management.
In November, ombudsman chief executive Adam Sampson left his post after the NAO tried to qualify last year’s annual report. The report was delayed by more than eight months while the accounts were re-examined to look again at ‘irregular expenditure’ totalling £22,300.
Ministry of Justice permanent secretary Ursula Brennan said in January that Sampson received £10,600 in travel expense allowances between 2009 and 2012, and added that the OLC intends to recover expenditure outside the scope of its policies. Sampson has denied any wrongdoing.
The OLC this week rejected a freedom of information request from the Gazette to know how much money has been recovered from Sampson and what amount is still outstanding.
The response also rejected a request to know how much Sampson has been paid since he left the organisation.
According to the organisation's last annual report, Sampson, who was on a salary of £130,972 a year, had a contract that provided for six months’ notice from his resignation.
In response to the freedom of information request, OLC compliance officer Gurmit Sangha said the information could be withheld until the publication of the 2014/15 annual report.
Sangha said: 'I cannot justify the public interest in disclosure against the public interest in permitting public authorities to publish information in a manner, form and at a time of their own choosing, to ensure effective conduct of public affairs.’ The last annual report appeared in January this year, six months after it was originally due.
The planned budget for the 2015/16 financial year is £14.84m, of which £2.63m is set aside for the new claims management complaints jurisdiction. The budget for 2014/15, when LeO dealt only with complaints about law firms, was £13.87m.