The Legal Ombudsman’s office says that its spending this year will rise sharply after it admitted underestimating its likely workload.
The complaints handler said this week that expenditure is likely to reach £12.5m in 2018/19. A year ago it predicted spending £10.7m over the year.
The organisation appears to have significantly misread future demand for its service: its business plan published in 2017 estimated that 7,000 legal cases would be handled in 2018/19; this week that figure was revised upward to between 8,000 and 8,425.
Taken together with the cost of handling claims management company complaints, the total budget for 2018/19 is now £14.5m – an increase of 14% on the budget estimate made a year ago.
The 2018/19 business plan also reveals that the ombudsman requires £750,000 in capital expenditure over the next two years to complete ‘critical’ changes to its IT systems.
In the foreword to the plan, Wanda Goldwag, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, said the organisation faced pressures creating a backlog of cases. ‘Demand and case complexity have increased, while at the same time we have seen high levels of staff turnover in a highly competitive recruitment market,’ she said. ‘To meet increased demand, mitigate the impact of staff shortages, and tackle the build-up of cases awaiting allocation, we have increased our resource allocation for 2018/19.’
Additional resources would create sustainable improvements in 'productivity, performance and quality,’ she added. 'The OLC is under no illusion about the scale of the task.’
Elsewhere in the business plan, the ombudsman admits high workloads have ‘impacted’ staff morale and turnover – both of these elements are highlighted as weaknesses of the organisation. A new staffing model is now in place, with a new case management system set to go live this month.
The ombudsman’s office says it will start to realise the benefits of improved processes and systems as part of its modernisation, informed by more ‘robust’ operational forecasting and modelling. It will also focus on sharing insight, intelligence and feedback from the complaints scheme to providers, and influencing regulators and policy makers.