The Legal Ombudsman is facing another backlash from the solicitor’s profession after extending the begging bowl again this year for a major cash injection.
The Office of Legal Complaints is consulting on a business plan and budget for 2021/22 which includes a 19% rise in spending to £15.26m. That figure, according to the OLC’s figures, would then rise again in 2022/23, to £16.16m.
A similar appeal to increase the budget was made – and subsequently rejected - in 2020 and in its response to the consultation the Law Society has publicly questioned how the ombudsman can ask for more funding at such a precarious time for so many in the profession.
David Greene, president, said: ‘Like all of us LeO is operating in a challenging environment because of the pandemic but with incomes hit due to the decline in the economy LeO seems out of step to request an increase in resources on this scale. Especially when LeO’s performance over the last year is a real concern, with a steep rise in its backlog and decline in the number of cases closed, even taking into account the impact of the pandemic.’
Greene said the ombudsman should address the causes for such a high turnover of staff before asking for more funds to take on extra numbers. It should also consider its processes to see what savings and efficiencies can be made and supply evidence to back up its assessments.
The OLC has been open about the struggles faced by the ombudsman in the past year, with the Covid-10 pandemic causing a backlog of unopened cases. It estimates that 5,000 people are likely to be waiting for an investigation into their complaint to even start by the end of this financial year.
OLC chair Elisabeth Davies has said additional resources are required to meet current demand, address the additional impact of Covid-19 and reduce waiting times.
But the Law Society identifies certain areas of spending that are of lesser importance or where the evidence basis has not been set out, and says the OLC business plan lacks detail about what projects are lined up to change the way the ombudsman operates. The consultation closed last week and a decision is expected from the Legal Services Board this spring.