I am pleased to present the Office for Legal Complaints’ (OLC) business plan and budget for 2019-20, the third and final year of our 2017-20 strategy. On behalf of the OLC, thank you to those who responded to our earlier consultation.
We are operating in a rapidly changing operating environment – short and long-term factors will impact legal services, regulatory frameworks and the operating environment for public bodies. Our Claims Management work has now transferred successfully to the Financial Ombudsman Service. CMC work has been a great success, and I would like to thank our staff and CMC stakeholders for their contribution to this.
Our strategy sought to deliver an improvement in the effectiveness and efficiency of our complaints handling through an ambitious modernisation programme. Our strategic objectives also focused on improving our understanding of the external environment, to feed back more effectively and improve standards of first tier complaint handling.
LeO has made significant progress with its modernisation programme in 2018-19. We will close the programme in April 2019 having successfully implemented our business process, staffing model, IT, telephony, case management system, and estate rationalisation. We now have an infrastructure that can facilitate more flexible, innovative and sustainable operational delivery models. The OLC Board is extremely grateful to all of our staff for their hard work and support for modernisation. Developing and testing these new ways of working will be our central focus in 2019-20.
The foundations for sustainable future performance are in place. Although performance against our new KPIs has improved during 2018-19, it remains mixed; in 2019-20 we must achieve consistent and sustainable performance.
The success of our modernisation programme has enabled us to further streamline our management structure by implementing a recommendation of the MoJ’s Tailored Review to combine the Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman roles a year earlier than planned. Under the leadership of Rebecca Marsh, our new management team is increasing the rigour of our processes, enhancing support for staff to build capability, enhancing stakeholder engagement and horizon scanning, and increasing our focus on performance.
The primary theme of the 2019-20 business plan will be the quality of our work, alongside an ongoing focus on case progression,to address key strategic challenges:
We have developed our plan around two outcomes and six objectives, which reflect the priorities set out in our business plan consultation.Responses to the consultation supported these priorities to address our two key strategic challenges and are relevant to LeO’s position in the wider landscape. We look forward to working with stakeholders and our staff to realise the benefits of the current strategy and develop our new strategy.
Wanda Goldwag, Chair, Office for Legal Complaints
The last year was an exciting one in which to begin my tenure as Chief Ombudsman. We have achieved a great deal as an organisation, with much more to do over the coming year. This business plan and budget is my first as Chief Ombudsman and Chief Executive of the Legal Ombudsman.
Combining the roles of Chief Ombudsman and Chief Executive was one of the recommendations of the Ministry of Justice’s 2017 Tailored Review. It is an indicator of the progress we have made over the last two years that we are able to implement this recommendation ahead of schedule.
We accomplished a great many of our objectives in our previous business plan, but changes in the external environment and the level of resource proved challenging for delivery. Now we have the right infrastructure, process and complete transparency and oversight of our customers’ journey through our service. We are clear about the impacts of the external environment and include in this plan work to refine our forecasting ability and understand the changing needs of our future customers.
We are well placed to both drive continuous improvement, giving a sustainable and consistent level of performance and to look at alternative delivery models that will mean we can deliver effectively for the future. Mediation, geographically dispersed work and partnering for delivery are all options we will be looking at over the coming year.
The roll-out of our quality and feedback model across the business, alongside the significant work we have done to improve access and support at the beginning of our process should see the step change in quality of the customer experience.
All of this will take time to show in our performance. Our business plan focuses entirely on the things that matter to the public, our customers, stakeholders and staff. Primarily, that is a quality service, where we listen to people and respond with empathy; we provide fair and reasonable outcomes for everyone, as early as possible; and we share evidence based insight to support the sector and access to justice for all.
Rebecca Marsh,Chief Ombudsman
The Legal Ombudsman scheme for England and Wales was set up by the Office for Legal Complaints (the OLC), under the Legal Services Act 2007.
The Legal Ombudsman helps to resolve issues between complainants and regulated legal service providers in England and Wales. We protect and promote the public interest by investigating issues in dispute impartially and fairly when service providers have been unable to resolve the complaint. We have statutory powers that allow us, when necessary, to enforce remedies we order on behalf of complainants.
We accept complaints about all areas of law and in a typical year, we receive between 7,000 and 7,500 cases, and just under 100,000 enquiries. Our role is to seek to resolve informally where possible.
We know that people often come to us at particularly challenging times in their lives. People do not always understand whether the service they have received is what they should expect and it is equally important for us to provide reassurance when things are right as redress when they are not. We recognise that for service providers, a complaint to LeO can be unsettling or stressful, and both sides are generally looking for timely closure and a fair outcome. Both reassurance and redress improve trust and confidence and support access to justice.
Through our knowledge and insights from the cases we see, we also provide feedback that helps service providers improve their complaint handling and informs consumers about the service they should expect.
We aim to be open and transparent. We publish data about the complaints we consider, the decisions we make,and our performance.In our 2018-19 business plan we are open about the challenges that we face to ensure that our performance meets the high standards we set for ourselves. Our plans for 2019-20 will build trust and confidence that the Legal Ombudsman is a well-run,effective organisation with great people and modern ways of working.
Screenshot of the Legal Ombudsman Business Plan
1.Develop and implement quality and feedback model
2.Remain within tolerance against delivery plan, including reduced wait times for assessment
3. Implement new quality management framework
1.Delivery plan progress (including assessment)
2.Timeliness of case resolution
4.Quality -% service complaints upheld
5.Staff engagement index
1.Trust and confidence
2.Making a wider impact
4.Insufficient operational resources
5.Organisational capacity and capability
4.Roll out Ombudsman development programme
5.Develop operational leadership skills
6.Scope benefits of mediation and other agreed outcome techniques
7.Implement ICS action plan
8.Progress Scheme Rules review
9.Publish regular summary of casework trends, including specific briefing for Wales
10.Deliver within tolerance against communications, engagement and feedback plan
11.Share data with regulators/Legal Choices and continue close work with SRA on implications of handbook changes
12. Complete scoping project for publishing full Ombudsman decisions
13. Deliver new website
1.to embed our inclusive service strategy, informed by our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion data;
2.to raise staff awareness of issues for LGBT+ people and people with disabilities, to build a more inclusive service and organisation;
3.to deliver our action plan to recognise and nurture Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) talent within the organisation.
Q2 and 4 –monitor/evaluate
Q2-Q3 –design and development;
Q1 -OLC Board workshop
Q1 –research and review
Q1 –options paper
Q1 –agree plan;
Q4 –review/repeat ICS benchmarking
Q1 –scope and agree process
Q2 –commence publication
Q3 –consultation and engagement
Q4 -final strategy approval
There are a number of activities planned for 2019-20 that will support one or more of our 2019-20 priorities. These are about extending the good work done through the Modernising LeO programme to enhance the solid foundations to enable a high performance culture.The following activities will form this enabling strand:
Q1-2 review effectiveness of existing provision,
Q3-4 implement improvements identified
We engaged our staff in developing our earlier consultation document through specific team exercises, supplemented by feedback from staff survey results.
Staff costs are 80% of our budget, so their engagement in delivering our business plan priorities is critical to achieving the levels of service and performance that we require.
Our staff have told us that they enjoy the work they do and are proud of the independent service we provide. They value LeO’s employee deal, in particular the new flexible working offer.
We acknowledge that it has been a challenging year for our staff because of the volume of change and focus on developing a high performance culture.
To stabilise our operational performance we will maintain our focus on achieving more consistent productivity and quality. We will need to help our people deliver consistently against targets, develop their skills and capability, and demonstrate LeO’s values and behaviours.
We will do this through our learning and development offer and programme. We will apply the lessons of the pilots we have run in 2018-19 to achieve more robust and consistent processes. We will support all of this with leadership development and staff engagement.
The table below provides a historical perspective on the OLC’s budgets, and our revenue and capital budgets for 2019-20. Our budgets need to be approved both by the Ministry of Justice and Legal Services Board (LSB). Excluding bad debt expenses, staff costs account for over three quarters of our costs, which are recovered from providers through a levy administered by the LSB.
* 2018-19 and 2019-20 figures are net of estates costs/income from sub-letting 25% of our office to another public body from 1 April 2018.
Our capital budget, which is funded directly by Government and recovered through depreciation charges included in our revenue budgets, is set out below. This covers investments in our IT and digital infrastructure, particularly information and communications technology and digital. The 2019-20 capital budget is 50% lower than the £0.5m capital budget for 2019-20 anticipated in last year’s business plan. This reflects the scale and positive impact of the IT changes we have already introduced and new, more agile ways of delivering projects which rely less on capital funding.
* Of the 2018-19 capital budget of £250k, £87k was returned to the MoJ due to changes in timing of CMS enhancements, meaning a forecast outturn of £0.163m.
Our total budgeted revenue expenditure for 2019-20 is £12.34m, with a capital budget of £0.25m. The legal budget includes all overheads, following transfer of the CMC jurisdiction to FOS on 1 April 2019. The budget absorbs the additional one-off resource provided in 2018-19 to work through legacy cases from 2017-18.
Our forecast unit cost for 2019-20 is higher than budgeted unit cost for 2018-19. However, we anticipate actual unit costs in 2018-19 being above target due to a lower volume of closures than planned. This has been affected by the move to the new business process, staff turnover, the high proportion of staff new in role, and changes in process to reflect the focus on quality. We are also planning to start 2019-20 with staffing slightly above our establishment to mitigate the impact of staff turnover.
In order to build on the success of our recent IT development work further funding will be essential, and will allow us to digitise our offering and continue to improve our customer service. Capital expenditure of £0.25m in 2019-20 will cover:
We have constructed this budget and business plan on the assumptions that:
We have a KPI on the overall unit cost for our work. Some stakeholders focused on this in their consultation responses. Overall unit cost is an imperfect measure which combines a number of elements of both cost and activity. It includes the costs of dealing with over 90,000 enquiries each year, of which around 7,000 become actual cases in terms of unit cost performance. It also reflects the costs of feeding back to the profession in line with our second regulatory objective and also corporate overheads which support front-line delivery but have only a loose relationship with activity levels.
Unit cost is also influenced by case mix and the proportion of cases that resolve informally or require a final ombudsman decision, as well as person-specific factors which may require extra time to tailor our service for vulnerable people. The proposed budget delivers an overall unit cost in 2019-20 of £1,695 (net of estates costs and income).
* Net of estates expenses/income for space released to another public body from 1 April 2018. The 2019-20 figures include inflation.
The table below sets out an analysis of the elements of our costs and activity levels:
Our cost base has increased for 2019-20 as a result of a number of one-off factors:
Longer-term reductions in cost will flow from improved quality, impact and effectiveness, which will allow us to operate with reduced staffing. This is the reason this plan focuses on quality, throughput, consistency of approach and building staff capability without risking unintended consequences from targeting unit cost, or simplistic, unreliable comparisons with other ombudsman schemes. A detailed budget breakdown appears below.
The new KPI framework introduced from April 2018 has worked well. In 2019-20 we are retaining the same KPIs but are setting more stretching timeliness KPIs as we will have cleared the opening legacy cases during 2018-19. Our KPIs are underpinned by a suite of strategic performance measures which we also report to the OLC Board, management indicators and a detailed monthly operational delivery plan.