The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is falling further behind in meeting case closure targets amid high staff turnover, it has emerged.
LeO said 6,206 cases were closed in the financial year to 31 March 2019, compared to a target of 8,000 and struggled in the last quarter with staff retention, sickness absences and performance.
According to statistics published recently by the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) – the body that oversees LeO – the staff turnover rate hit 18.5% in March 2019 and was above 15% for the two previous months. This compares with an annual target of less than 12%.
It said this was due to “strong external competition and active performance management”.
The target for average days per employee lost to sickness was to reduce them below the public sector average of 8.5 days. From January-March this year the total was above 11 days every month, growing from 11.2 to 11.8.
“Sickness days per employee continues to increase with an increase in reported work-related stress a factor along with long term sickness cases. Active case management working with line managers is ongoing with a wider review of our approach.”
The quarterly strategic and performance report submitted by LeO to the OLC commented that overall high performance in a number of teams had been “offset by pockets of poor performance”, and “levels of output in some teams have impacted LeO’s ability to keep pace with levels of incoming cases”.
On the positive side, LeO said its claims management company (CMC) jurisdiction had been “transferred successfully” to the Financial Ombudsman Service and the conclusion of “legacy cases” from 2017-18 had been “notably successful”.
LeO said its HR department had faced a “higher than usual level of complex issues involving grievance, disciplinary matters and employment relations issues” and “complicit with this staff morale is low in some areas and higher in others”.
LeO said 12 new investigators had started work in March, and a further recruitment campaign was underway, while five staff had moved across to the legal jurisdiction as a result of no longer having to handle complaints about CMCs.
“Additional staff resources and a revised approach to investigators’ case-holdings will increase our capacity to take new cases for investigation.
“The imminent return of investigators from the legacy team to operations in general is also expected to have a positive impact on the number of cases accepted for investigation in the course of 2019/20.”
The legacy team closed 358 cases from January to March, bringing the total for that team alone to 1,544 in 2018/19, with work in progress down to 438 cases.
Although the closure of legacy cases was positive, it had contributed to the “non-attainment” of targets on timeliness, but the ‘negative impact’ was expected to reduce in the future.
LeO received 125,300 customer contacts in 2018-19, from which 39,900 files were created. Of these 6,800 cases were taken forward for assessment.
Separately, another paper to the OLC board said the ‘Modernising LeO’ programme – which started in November 2016 – has been brought to a conclusion.
The report said the programme “delivered new business processes and the associated case management system to a high level of quality”.