Blog by Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the OLC

The Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) started to consult on the 21/22 Business Plan and budget for the Legal Ombudsman Scheme back in November 2020. In February the OLC Board approved the revised Business Plan that will this month go to the LSB Board for review. 

There is no doubt in my mind that these intervening months have been critical, affording us an essential opportunity to review and reassess. We’ve thought carefully about Covid-19, its ongoing impact on the sector and Legal Ombudsman staff; we’ve revisited and tested the assumptions behind, and confidence levels in, what can be delivered over the next two years; and we’ve listened to the insight of the new Chief Ombudsman and Chief Operating Officer.

Above all we’ve carefully considered consultation feedback and what the sector has taken the time to share with us. In this we’ve seen an appreciation of the OLC's openness and honesty; how the transparency of the multi-year approach is valued; and a recognition that the Legal Ombudsman scheme needs to stabilise before it can improve. But this can't mask that the OLC was asking for a lot.

Some investment is needed but the message we’ve heard is: ‘Are you sure you can't make better use of what you've got in the first year? Are you really making enough use of innovation/Priority Two and a commitment to doing things differently? Are you focusing your improvement enough on the backlog?’  

The result is a revised Business Plan and Budget. The Plan remains part of a multi-year approach, but it has been re-balanced. There is now a greater emphasis on supporting existing staff to increase performance and productivity, through simplifying ways of working and doing things differently.

A clear pathway to reducing the backlog is urgently being identified. More detail is provided on Priority Two/innovation and on alternatives to existing delivery models. Priority Three’s commitment to insight and impact work has been sharpened to those areas which will have the most impact in preventing and reducing complaints in the first instance. This last point matters.  

Ensuring the Legal Ombudsman recovers and improves is not just the OLC's problem and is not just about the regulatory objective of protecting and promoting consumer interests through access to redress. This is fundamental to how the legal profession engages their customers, the sector’s commitment through education and learning to improving their customer experience and the contribution that the ombudsman should be making to this.

The current backlog is affecting confidence in the scheme, credibility within the sector, the trust of complainants, and the OLC’s ability to have conversations about the Legal Ombudsman’s accountability and fit within the wider regulatory framework.  

This is a delicate balance. The sector wants to see more improvement, more quickly. So does the OLC. But as the lifetime of the consultation period has shown, uncertainty now needs to be planned for and changes must be sustainable.

The OLC cannot and will not claim a level of certainty which is not realistic at present but I understand that the sector needs to see more and we've responded to this. A new commitment has been made to not just provide the sector with more information in real time, but to establish better and more regular forums of accountability. This lies at the heart of the new agreement and working relationship that the OLC now wants to establish between the Legal Ombudsman and the sector.