Several expenses items incurred by former chief legal ombudsman Adam Sampson were ‘novel and contentious’, the Ministry of Justice has revealed.
The Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) finally published the annual report of the complaints service today more than eight months after it was sent to the National Audit Office (NAO) for approval. The NAO qualified the accounts on the basis of irregular expenditure totalling £22,300.
In November, Sampson resigned over a dispute involving his travel expenses.
MoJ permanent secretary Ursula Brennan, writing in the annual report, said several items included in his expenses had tax implications because they provided a ‘benefit in kind’.
She explained expenditure now deemed to provide a benefit in kind incurred between 2009 and 2012 and not included in previous reports totalled £3,772.
Brennan said Sampson received £10,600 in travel expense allowances between 2009 and 2012. The taxation implications of the amounts provided to him are currently ‘under review’ and action will be taken by the OLC to ensure the appropriate tax is paid.
As part of the review of Sampson’s expenses, Brennan said several items had been identified, primarily travel related, which are deemed to be ‘outside the scope of the OLC’s expenditure policies’.
She added: ‘The OLC intends to recover this expenditure and are in discussions with Mr Sampson.’
Sampson today told the Gazette it is still not clear how the dispute will be resolved.
He said: ‘The debate between the permanent secretary and myself about the legitimacy of the approach to expenditure authorised by the previous board remains a live one, and it is this difference of view which is reflected in the accounts.’
The report reveals the chief ombudsman’s contract provides for six months’ notice from his resignation – meaning he is likely to be paid a salary until May.
In addition to a salary of £130,972, his benefits include a ‘total remuneration supplement allowance’ of £7,000 a year, a ‘flexible benefit allowance’ of £4,136 and a ‘benefit in kind’ of £4,022.
Brennan said that additionally within Sampson’s expenses was £670 as a benefit in kind for members of the board and £1,040 as a benefit in kind for other OLC staff. These amounts relate mainly to food and drink and tax will be accounted for where necessary.
Brennan added: ‘These findings have demonstrated that internal controls in respect of certain aspects of expenses and remuneration were not adequate, and as a result the OLC is undertaking a thorough review of remuneration paid to all senior staff to ensure that all amounts have been correctly identified, recorded, disclosed and authorised.
‘The OLC will also review its internal controls in respect of payments made to senior staff and also its governance in relation to these areas, and will seek to learn from best practice in other organisations.’
In a statement, OLC chair Steve Green today said it was ‘disappointing’ that the performance of the Legal Ombudsman had been overshadowed by the qualification of its accounts.
He said: ‘This qualification was due to issues that largely relate to or derive from a failure to seek appropriate external approvals for some of the many decisions taken at the time that the Legal Ombudsman was being set up in 2010.
‘We are taking all necessary steps to ensure that lessons are learned and that these issue cannot arise again.’