The super-regulator has laid down the law to the Legal Ombudsman with a tough new set of performance targets.

In an exchange published today, the Legal Services Board outlines key targets the ombudsman's office must meet from now until the end of the financial year.

In the past, the ombudsman has consistently struggled to meet new targets for cost per case and user satisfaction.

Where targets are not met, the LSB says a written explanation will be required and details of timetabled remedial action proposed.

The LSB said it believes that a structural and management overhaul creates a risk of damage to the ombudsman’s performance and places current targets at risk, with adequate measures not yet in place to ensure improvement.

The letter notes that ‘inherent structural features’ are likely to prevent significant improvements in performance.

Richard Moriarty (pictured), chief executive of the LSB, said: ‘Placing these formal requirements on the [Office for Legal Complaints] is not a step the LSB has taken lightly. The intention is designed to support the OLC’s own ambition to see a step change in performance and to mitigate the possibility of unacceptable risks.’

The LSB has insisted that average satisfaction rating of complainants and lawyers, regardless of the outcome of the case, must not fall below 40% in any quarter.

According to the most recent annual report, for 2013/14, just 18% of complainants were satisfied in the final quarter of 2013. The previous quarter had seen lawyer satisfaction slip to 37%, while lawyer satisfaction was also below the 40% on average in the whole of 2012/13.

The cost per case target appears even more difficult to achieve. Unit cost must not exceed £1,750 in any rolling quarter, according to LSB stipulations. But in 2013/14, the cost per case was £1,950 – the first year that this figure had dropped below £2,000. The ombudsman budgeted for a unit cost of £1,734 in 2014/15, but it is not known at this stage whether that was met.

The final target, to resolve at least 60% of cases within 90 days, appears manageable, having been achieved in every month of 2013/14.

In his response to the LSB, also published, OLC chair Steve Green said the organisation has already saved money by moving to new premises and implemented a new case management system. 

He accepted that the LeO may suffer ‘short-term impacts’ from the changes at the ombudsman, but these will ultimately ‘improve and strengthen’ the organisation.