The organisation running the Legal Ombudsman wants to increase its budget for next year by 20% to ‘radically’ improve the service and cut delays.
The Office for Legal Complaints confirmed yesterday its indicative budget for 2020/21 is £14.8m, compared with the £12.35m budget for 2019/20. The required budget would then fall over the next two years, but would remain over £14m.
Of the increase for 2020/2, £1.2m is for additional staff needed to deal with a rise in case closures, £400,000 for investment in feedback to the profession. The remaining £800,000 is allocated to IT costs and inflation.
In the past two years the ombudsman has concluded just over 6,000 cases each year. This is expected to rise to almost 8,500 under the new structure in 2020/21 - meaning the average cost per case could drop.
The ombudsman has been dogged for years by delays in handling cases, a high turnover of staff and problems implementing new IT. Solicitors have complained of being kept in limbo waiting for a decision following a complaint from a client.
Rebecca Marsh, chief ombudsman and chief executive, said she was ‘keenly aware’ there is work to do to meet expectations, and the proposed three-year plan represents a commitment to provide a much-improved, more efficient service.
She said: ‘We know that people’s perception of our service is affected by the wait at the beginning of our process. Performance has been getting better over the past year and we will be able to reduce waiting times by two-thirds by March 2020.
‘We are now working at maximum efficiency for the staff we currently have, and so to go beyond this we will need to increase our operational staff. Our proposed budget increase of £2.4m next year reflects this, as well as our commitment to increase our learning and feedback work for the sector.’
Three specific objectives for the next three years are to improve the experience for complainants and lawyers, increasing the transparency of casework, and developing the service to ‘ensure it is appropriate for the evolving legal sector’.
The ombudsman's office says it has already altered its investigation process so complainants deal with the same investigator throughout, resolved more than 2,000 complaints from the previous case management system, and reduced wait time at the front end of the process by half since April 2019.
In three years, LeO claims that both complainants and lawyers will trust that the way their dispute is dealt with is ‘fair and just’, with the process explained and reasoned in a way everyone understands.
The proposed three-year strategy is open to consultation until 14 February.