Complaints handlers could cut out hundreds of unwarranted enquiries with a new self-assessment tool for people bringing forward their grievances.

The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) said this week it has launched an online system for people making complaints to triage their complaint at an early stage.

Consumers who contact the ombudsman can discover whether their complaint can be handled immediately, or by another organisation, or whether it is too early to be dealt with.

The tool has been tested over the past month, with around 3,000 users assessing their complaint to confirm whether they should pursue the matter.

The ombudsman says that almost 500 consumers realised their complaint was outside of its jurisdiction and were signposted to the correct organisation. A further 350 learned that they had to wait to give their service provider the opportunity to respond. It was not explained what happened to the remaining enquiries where complainants were encouraged to self-assess.

Wanda Goldwag, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, said ‘Consumers today are often looking for quick responses to their questions. Our customer assessment tool is a great way for them to access our services and understand how and when we can help them.’

The ombudsman faces a challenge this year to keep costs down and retain efficiency at a time when the number of complaints is predicted to rise.

In July, LeO reported that its record on timeliness had deteriorated sharply, blamed on an unexpected increase in demand and unusually high levels of sickness and turnover.

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.

The number complaints accepted for investigation increased by 4% to 7,527 last year. Residential conveyancing, family law, personal injury, wills and probate and litigation continue to be the most complained about areas of law in the legal jurisdiction.