Blog by Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the OLC

In November 2021, the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) opened a six-week consultation on the 2022/23 Business Plan and Budget for the Legal Ombudsman. The responses provided much to reflect on and in February 2022 the OLC Board approved a revised Business Plan and Budget. I am pleased to say that on 22 March these were approved by the Legal Services Board.

We have always said that it is important not to overpromise and underdeliver – but at the same time, we need to be bold and ambitious about the transformation the Legal Ombudsman needs to make in the service it provides. Our ambitions for 2022/23 mark a clear step-change in what the Legal Ombudsman will deliver over the next 12 months – the second year of our recovery journey.

As well as showing the impact the Legal Ombudsman’s performance recovery will have on customer journey times and giving detail on how value for money will be monitored and achieved, our Business Plan also includes more detail on how the pre-assessment pool (PAP) reduction trajectories – essentially, the number of people waiting to have their case investigated – have been reached.

Reflecting on the feedback we heard during the consultation period, there were lots of positive messages - not least the strong appreciation stakeholders have for the increased openness and transparency around the Legal Ombudsman’s operational performance. Our commitment to enhanced public reporting and accountability has undoubtedly enabled a greater level of confidence in the leadership of the organisation - and this is something we want to continue.

We also heard very clearly the uncertainty stakeholders still had around whether LeO would achieve the pace of recovery outlined in its performance trajectories. Respondents particularly highlighted issues LeO had faced around recruitment and retention.

It’s clear that to deliver on the plans to transform LeO we need to have the appropriate resource in place across the organisation. To this end, we have been working hard to ensure LeO hits the ground running in 2022/23. While work is ongoing to reduce attrition – and more broadly, ensure LeO is a great place to work – a successful national recruitment campaign in the second half of 2021/22 means that LeO will start the new financial year with a full complement of investigators, providing the stability and resource required to achieve and deliver against next year’s priorities. Because of this, stakeholders can be assured that our ambitions are based on realistic expectations and assumptions.  

The plans for 2022/23 are a reflection of the OLC and the Legal Ombudsman responding to the call to do more with existing resources. The approved budget reflects an effort to do that. While our plans incur a cost to service providers, the approved budget for 2022/23 is an investment in the operational resource needed to realise our vision of a thriving Legal Ombudsman.

We have always said this will be a two-year recovery journey. Although the approved budget is an increase of 5.8% on what was originally set out in our 2021/22 Business Plan the total budget ask across the two years in fact represents 6% more case closures for 2% less total cost. It is important that we see the full year effect of both year one and year two of our recovery plans. The largest element of the 5.8% increase represents the full year effect of investigators recruited this year- and this is a necessary investment to realise the benefits of the investment made in 2021/22.

Whilst our programme is ambitious, the momentum of the last six months and the success of new initiatives mean that LeO can have a positive forward look. The performance trajectories for 2022/23 have been rigorously tested and will see substantial movement towards delivering a service that matches customers’ needs and expectations. Notably, 2022/23 will see the Legal Ombudsman:

  • Resolve more than 10,000 complaints – an increase of 39% on 2021/22 levels. 
  • See a 29% reduction in waiting times in the PAP compared with 2021/22. 
  • Halve the volume of customers waiting in the PAP. 
  • Looking further ahead, work toward an ambition that the average customer journey time for most cases is 90 days by 2024/25, with the PAP at a working level of 500-1,000 cases.

We are going into 2022/23 with not an ounce of complacency. There is a very clear recognition that the recovery ahead of LeO is a steep one and clear contingencies have been built into the Plan, including the development of regional delivery hubs. But over the last year we have ensured that the foundations are in place.

The next 12 months will be about ensuring the backlog is reduced, that new business processes lead to an improved customer experience, and that LeO’s commitment to pursue radical options for accelerating transformation is progressed. The Legal Ombudsman and OLC are already working hard to deliver on this - as seen in the current consultation on proposed changes to our Scheme Rules. If implemented, these changes will ultimately deliver an even more balanced process and better customer experience, while retaining the core principle of independent and fair legal redress. 

Importantly, the conversation with the OLC and Legal Ombudsman’s stakeholders doesn’t end with the publication of the Business Plan. As it is put into action, lines of communication remain open – including through the Challenge and Advisory Group, which has already provided welcome feedback and valuable insight.

While there is hard work before us, the Legal Ombudsman starts 2022/23 from a solid foundation, built on credible forecasts and assumptions, with viable contingencies in place, regularly and robustly challenged as part of the OLC’s oversight.  With a clear vision we will maintain our commitments to change and transparency because a thriving Legal Ombudsman really matters – not only to individual legal service providers and customers, but to the legal services sector as a whole.