The Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) has reached the end of its 2020-23 strategy period. Having put in place an interim strategy until the end of March 2024, it is now consulting on a new strategy for the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), which will run from 1 April 2024 to the 31 March 2027.

At the same time, the OLC is consulting on its Business Plan and Budget for 2024/25 – the first year of the new strategy.

To help shape the strategy and plans that are now being formally consulted on, the OLC and LeO have engaged with a wide range of people and organisations with an interest in LeO’s work – including LeO’s staff, the Legal Services Board, the Legal Services Consumer Panel, the approved regulators, professional bodies, legal service providers and representatives of the consumer advice sector.

Introduction

A pivotal stage for the Legal Ombudsman

Elisabeth Davies, Chair, Office for Legal Complaints

Paul McFadden, Chief Ombudsman, Legal Ombudsman

We rely on legal services at key times in our lives – whether it’s buying a home, dealing with bereavement, having issues at work, ending a marriage, or being involved in legal action. It’s because they matter so much that an effective Legal Ombudsman (LeO) matters. If something goes wrong, consumers and legal providers should have confidence it can be resolved fairly and as quickly as possible.

Over recent years LeO has worked hard to build that confidence. It has transformed the way it works, so that half of complaints are resolved through early resolution, without the need for a formal investigation. Users and providers of legal services are having a substantially better experience when they’re relying on LeO’s help to move forward.  

To support these changes, LeO has put in place updated Scheme Rules, ensuring people can get the answer they need when it really matters. It’s taken tangible steps toward being a great place to work. And it’s put equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of decisions about its people and customers alike.

This progress speaks to the hard work and commitment of everyone at LeO. It means that, as we look ahead, we’re by no means starting from a blank sheet of paper, but instead have firm foundations for the future.

Having engaged with LeO’s people and stakeholders earlier in the year, we’re now inviting formal consultation feedback on the Office for Legal Complaints’ (OLC’s) 2024-27 draft strategy, and the Business Plan and Budget for its first year, 2024/25.

Our ambition for LeO’s service – a leading and trusted ombudsman

The OLC’s first strategic objective speaks to our ambition that LeO provides a service that’s highly trusted by both users and providers of legal services – and leads the way in its approach to resolving complaints. It’s set in the context of what’s now a sustained increase in demand for LeO’s help.

While recognising the substantial improvements LeO has already made to customers’ experience, we’re clear that there’s no room for complacency. By the end of the strategy period, we want to say with confidence that LeO is delivering an excellent experience for those relying on it.

This will mean focusing on the continuous improvement of the service LeO provides, guided by customer feedback. And it will mean evolving how LeO delivers that service, based on the principles of proportionality and efficiency that have underpinned its transformation –supported by the effective use of technology.

It will mean ensuring LeO is accessible to everyone who might need it, in view of the vital need to identify and address customer vulnerability and barriers to redress, and against a backdrop of continued pressure on the cost of living. And it will mean going further to strengthen the quality of what LeO does, reflecting changing views on what represents a fair outcome and good customer service.

Our ambition for LeO’s impact – a constructive voice for improvement

We’re also ambitious about establishing LeO as a constructive and strategic voice for improvement.

It’s an ambition rooted in the idea that complaints don’t only matter individually – but taken together, create a bigger picture of what’s happening in legal services, what’s going wrong, and what needs to change so that people get the service they’re relying on at critical times in their lives.

LeO is in a unique position to provide insight into how consumers and legal providers interact, and the causes of legal complaints. We need to do more with this – helping to influence and inform the regulatory framework and standards, working together with regulators and in alignment with the LSB.

At the same time, it is important that the legal sector – and regulators in particular – are accountable for how they’re engaging with LeO’s insights to drive higher standards and better outcomes.

This will be a journey for LeO – and the legal sector – over the course of the strategy. 2024/25 will involve delivering in priority areas, while building capacity and scoping a programme for future years – and contributing to the LSB’s programme of work on first tier complaints. We welcome feedback around interventions that would make a difference in the coming year, the potential for strategic collaboration, and areas LeO should focus on as a priority as it develops its programme.

Delivering value

We know many in the sector recognise the business case for this “invest to save” approach: the time and resource gains from the early resolution and prevention of complaints, and the commercial benefits of more satisfied customers.

As things currently stand, LeO won’t be able to deliver on these ambitions. In this first year, we’re not proposing any large upfront investment, but instead a minimal increase in capacity – essential for us to do the groundwork required to deliver more over the course of the strategy.

The OLC isn’t proposing an increase in operational resource – with LeO instead continuing to absorb demand. The trajectory for reaching a working level queue will extend over a longer period, reflecting the balance LeO is aiming to strike between continuing to improve customers’ experience and absorbing demand to minimise costs.

The small increase year-on-year increase represents unavoidable one-off costs – relating to vital infrastructure supporting LeO’s operations – inflationary pressure, and a pay increase in line with a best estimate of government pay guidance.

In the coming year, LeO will continue to focus on making its processes more efficient – and over the course of the strategy, look for opportunities for more fundamental change to enable even greater efficiency, flexibility and proportionality.

Shaping LeO’s future

LeO is now at a pivotal stage, and this consultation is vital in shaping its future.

We've already engaged widely with those representing both users and providers of legal services, as well as with the LSB – and are grateful for the open and constructive feedback we’ve received so far.

We look forward to hearing as many additional perspectives as possible – both on this strategy and the 2024/25 business plan we’re publishing alongside it – to help inform the final strategy, plans and budget that we’ll publish before April 2024.

Elisabeth Davies (Chair of the OLC Board)

Elisabeth Davies (Chair of the OLC Board)

Elisabeth Davies (Chair  the OLC Board)

Paul McFadden (Chief Ombudsman)

Paul McFadden (Chief Ombudsman)

Paul McFadden (Chief Ombudsman)

Consultation questions

Strategic objective for LeO’s service and 2024/25 plans

1. Do you support the OLC’s draft strategic objective for LeO’s service and supporting aims? What would success look like to you as we move from 2024 to 2027?

2. Do you support our proposed plans for this first year of the strategy, 2024/25? Is there anything on your horizon that you think could influence demand for LeO’s service?

Strategic objective for LeO’s impact and 2024/25 plans

3. Do you support the OLC’s draft strategic objective for LeO’s impact and supporting aims? What opportunities do you see for strategic alignment and collaboration? What would success look like to you as we move from 2024 to 2027?

4. Do you support our proposed plans for this first year of the strategy, 2024/25?

Budget

5. Do you support the proposed 2024/25 budget for LeO?

6. How might LeO’s funding arrangements need to evolve over the course of the strategy – for example, what changes might be made to the case fee, and how can LeO’s learning and insight programme be fairly and sustainably funded going forward?

7. Do you have any other feedback on the OLC’s draft 2024-27 Strategy and 2024/25 Business Plan and Budget?

 

How to respond

This consultation is open from 27 October 2023 until 12pm on 22 December 2023. 

You can share your feedback to our questions at: https://forms.office.com/e/8388zQz1u1 

If you have any questions about the consultation, get in touch at  

consultations@legalombudsman.org.uk  

We encourage online responses wherever possible. If you need to write to us, send  

your response to: Legal Ombudsman, PO Box 6168, Slough SL1 0EL. 

Unless otherwise stated, we publish responses to our consultations. 

Next steps

The OLC will review the feedback shared in response to this consultation as part of finalising its 2024-27 Strategy and 2024/25 Business Plan and Budget. 

The final 2024-27 Strategy and 2024/25 Business Plan and Budget will be published in March 2023, following consideration by the Legal Services Board.