The Legal Ombudsman had halved the time a person could wait to have their complaint resolved by the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was claimed today. 

The organisation’s annual report for 2019/20 reveals that by March 2020 average waiting times were reduced to 90 days, down from 171 days in April 2019.

But this progress has been ‘understandably halted’ by the impacts of coronavirus and the report admitted that any improvements are ‘now being eroded’ by the capacity reductions arising from the crisis.

Whilst LeO reported improvements in individual productivity, low staff morale and high levels of alternative employment opportunities saw a high level of attrition at the end of last 2019, with a resultant dip in total case closure volumes. This also slowed the rate of improvement in waiting times.

Writing earlier this month, Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, said: ‘There has been some good progress made on removing legacy cases and waiting times for decisions, and in year reductions in the pre-assessment pool and the length of time people wait to access our service. Nonetheless the legal ombudsman is not yet where it needs to be.’

In total, 6,425 cases were accepted for investigation in 2019/20, up from 4,022 in 2018/19 (some of the difference is attributed to a new case management system). Two in every fives cases were concluded with an agreed outcome, with the ombudsman making a final decision in 34% of cases. A total of 6,384 cases were resolved during the year, a rise of 3%.

Residential conveyancing continues to attract the highest proportion (27%) of complaints, followed by personal injury (15%), family law (13%) and wills and probate (13%). Delays in providing a legal service or a failure to advise were the most common reasons for complaint.

The ombudsman met its timeliness targets for low and medium complexity cases. For the least complex cases, 76% were concluded within 90 days and 97% concluded within 180 days. Targets were not met for high complexity cases, with 20% still unresolved after a year. Clients and legal services providers reported identical approval levels, with 85% saying they were satisfied with the outcome of their case.

The costs of the service continue to rise, with expenditure up from £11.9m in 2018/19 to £12.36m in 2019/20.

Staff turnover continues to be one of the organisation’s biggest problems, with 21% of employees leaving during the year. The report says that although this reflects a wider trend of increasing turnover in all sectors, issues around employee engagement, workload, leadership and change management need to be resolved.