We are seeking views about our business plan and budget for 2019-20, the third and final year of our 2017-20 strategy.
We are operating in a rapidly changing operating environment – short and long-term factors will impact the legal services market, regulatory frameworks and the operating environment for public bodies. The Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) will ensure the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) adapts to the changes, remains relevant and builds trust and confidence in the scheme.
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 expect to close this year having successfully implemented our business process, staffing model, IT, telephony, case management system, and estate rationalisation. In 2019-20, we will continue to develop our organisational capability through rapid, smaller-scale project delivery, and our focus will be on achieving the full benefits of the modernisation programme we’ve implemented. The OLC Board is extremely grateful to all of our staff for their hard work and support for the modernisation process this year.
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 will achieve consistent and sustainable performance.
Our progress with modernisation will enable us to streamline our management structure by implementing a recommendation of the MoJ’s Tailored Review a year earlier than planned. 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 four annual priorities, set out in this consultation, that address these two strategic challenges, enable us to continue to deliver our strategic objectives and are relevant to LeO’s position in the wider landscape. We welcome your views on our 2019-20 priorities, our plans to deliver them and our budget.
Chair, Office for Legal Complaints
The Legal Ombudsman for England and Wales was set up by our Board, the Office for Legal Complaints (the OLC), under the Legal Services Act 2007.
The Legal Ombudsman helps resolve complaints about services provided by regulated legal service providers and Claims Management Companies (CMC) in England and Wales. This includes solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers and legal executives. We protect and promote the public interest by investigating complaints impartially and fairly when service providers have been unable to resolve an initial complaint. If consumers and service providers are unable to resolve the complaints between themselves then a consumer can ask us to investigate. 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 but the majority of complaints are about residential conveyancing, family matters, wills and probate, personal injury and litigation. In a typical year, we receive between 7,000 and 7,500 cases, and some 70,000 initial enquiries.
We know that consumers often come to us at particularly challenging times in their lives. Problems with the purchase of a house, the break-up of a family or the death of a loved one can be exacerbated by the service received from a service provider. 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.
Our role is to investigate impartially and fairly and support both parties to resolve what can be challenging situations. We aim to talk to both parties, build a common understanding of whether there has been poor service and identify a mutually acceptable way to resolve the situation. Where this is not possible we have statutory powers to enforce remedies on behalf of consumers.
Beyond investigating matters in dispute our role is also to provide feedback that helps service providers improve their complaint handling and informs consumers about the service they can expect.
We aim to be an open and transparent organisation. We publish data about the complaints we consider, the decisions we make and our performance.
In our 2018-19 business plan we were open about the challenges that we faced 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.
screen shot of LeO's vision, mission and objectives
Screenshot of Progress against our 2018-19 annual priorities
infographic of speech bubbles filled with text
Deliver sustainable improvement in performance.
Improve data quality, analysis and feedback to the professions.
Improve quality of service by implementing an internal quality and feedback model.
Start to digitise our service and improve cyber and data security.
Build and maintain trust and confidence in the Legal Ombudsman by improving the quality of our work and developing dispute resolution skills.
Build and maintain trust and confidence in the Legal Ombudsman through consistently good performance.
Maximise impact through more effective feedback of insight, data and targeted stakeholder engagement.
Build trust and confidence in LeO and maximise impact through a refreshed website platform and digital service development.
Priorities will be driven by our new three year strategy.
Realising savings from the combination of the Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman roles.
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We need to deliver an effective, high quality and timely dispute resolution service.
We need to ensure that our staff have appropriate skills to deliver against our expectations about quality and progression. We also need to consider alternative models of delivery and explore the benefits that informal resolution methods such as mediation can provide to us and to our customers.
We want to build our approach around the concept of quality and feedback to incentivise staff to achieve high quality. This will also consider priority areas for development and succession planning, including recognising and nurturing Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) talent and our initial training offer for new staff. We will also consider structural questions in light of a year operating our new staffing model.
We will continue work commenced in 2018-19 to build a high performance culture. Being clear about our expectations of our staff is a key part of this priority. We will also develop a framework against which we can assess the quality of the service we provide.
LeO reviews its scheme rules on a regular basis to ensure they are fit for purpose and provide the correct framework for delivering our service, and will continue to do so in 2019-20.
Two interlocking circles' diagram filled with text about the Legal Ombudsman
Consistently high quality requires the right balance between a fair outcome and pace. Our ability to reassure customers and service providers about what they can expect to happen over what period of time is critical to building confidence in our service. Establishing a culture of continuous improvement means that LeO can become more fleet of foot in responding to small scale improvements that collectively can make a big difference.
Another dimension to this priority is understanding the future demand for our services and any issues that may change that demand. We will remain mindful of staff well-being, the impact on our service of staff turnover and the need to provide an inclusive and welcoming working environment. We will ensure our service is sufficiently flexible to provide extra support to vulnerable people following our process.
The OLC Board is under no illusions about the importance of building on the foundations laid this year to achieve sustainable improvement in performance in 2019-20. Understanding what constitutes good performance and being able to forecast and model future performance is improving as a result of work delivered in 2018-19. Building on those improvements is a key part of this priority area. This will enable LeO to plan more effectively over the short, medium and longer term and make the most of the resources that we have.
LeO has a wide range of external stakeholders. It is important that we maximise the difference we make to them within resource constraints. We will take a wider view of engagement to reach those service providers who don’t have complaints with the Legal Ombudsman and how best to evaluate the impact of our feedback.
In line with our new communications and engagement strategy and improved strategic horizon scanning, we now need to consider how best to reach existing and potential customers to better understand their perspectives and improve our service to meet the needs of different customer groups, using market research where relevant. We will make better use of the improved data and business intelligence that we hold, sharing it more widely as part of our transparency agenda to influence improved complaints handling in the changing legal services market.
We need to develop a clearer, more strategic approach to feeding back to the professions and work differently by using learning from our work to inform the debate about the legal services market using new, dedicated business intelligence system.Our improved data will support publication of more analytical thematic reports, case studies, professional learning and thought leadership material. Through these, we will share more focused insights from our work that will do more to help service providers improve first tier complaints handling.
We will lay the foundations to benefit from increased use of digital services by developing a new website platform. This will enable LeO to provide easier access to its services, improve transparency and speed up resolution.
We will begin by establishing which digital services would provide the greatest benefits to LeO’s customers and service providers and look to develop, pilot projects and implement new services as part of our continuous improvement approach. This work is likely to extend into the next three year strategy and beyond.
In line with implementation of our inclusive service strategy, LeO will continue to be mindful of the needs of customers and service providers who are unable to access digital services or for whom these services present a barrier to access. We understand that different customers have different needs and that any increased use of digital solutions needs to take into account of those who are unable or unwilling to use digital solutions.
We will explore a range of ways in which we can make our service more effective through a small number of focused, incremental activities where we can be confident of achieving benefits.
We engaged our staff in developing this 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 to grow our people. 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 proposed indicative revenue budget 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 indicative capital budgets, which are funded directly by Government and recovered through depreciation charges included in our revenue budgets, are set out below. These cover investments in our infrastructure, particularly information and communications technology and digital. The indicative 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 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 proposed total budgeted revenue expenditure for 2019-20 is £12.3m, with a capital budget of £0.25m. The indicative legal budget includes all overheads, assuming the CMC jurisdiction transfers to FOS on 1 April 2019 as planned. 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 assuming that we will commence the 2019-20 financial year with staffing slightly above our establishment.
Compared with a budgeted legal unit cost of £1,685 in 2017-18, the proposed budget delivers a unit cost in 2019-20 of £1,663 (net of estates costs and income). Removing the effect of inflation from the 2019-20 unit cost, a 3% reduction in unit cost between 2017-18 and 2019-20.
* Net of estates expenses/income for space released to another public body from 1 April 2018. The 2019-20 figures include inflation.
We continue to identify ways to reduce our overheads, particularly as the CMC jurisdiction will no longer be contributing in 2019-20. This includes:
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:
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.
% cases in new case management system concluded within target for that category of case (based on cases concluded in period)
The timeliness KPI targets may be adjusted should resource/demand change above 5%
LeO operates within a system of Strategic Risks that are overseen by the OLC, and a series of Corporate Risks overseen by its Management Team. Below this each area of the business maintains operational risks and each programme or project maintains programme and project risks.
The current strategic risks are:
Since the start of our current three year strategy we have made significant progress in addressing longstanding challenges delivering acceptable performance, maximising our impact, developing the scheme and modernising the organisation. Having successfully completed an ambitious modernisation programme, we are in a better position as we enter 2019-20 but do not underestimate the scale of the remaining task to convert our investment into sustained performance.
1. Do you agree with our strategic objectives and analysis?
2. Have we identified the right annual priorities for 2019-20? Are there others we should consider?
3. Does the business plan include the right outcomes and actions to achieve our vision and strategic objectives?
4. Do you have any specific comments on our proposed budget for 2019-20, and the high-level assumptions and risks that support our proposed budget?
5. Do you have any comments on the Balanced Scorecard which measures our performance?
We are seeking feedback from stakeholders on our 2019-20 business plan and budget. The consultation closes at 12pm on 25 January 2019. Please send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Legal Ombudsman usually publishes a list of those who respond to consultations. If you wish to remain anonymous, please let us know.