The Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) is to put in place a new performance plan for the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) next year to tackle falling standards, it has emerged.
The plan, due to be implemented in April 2016, is a response to concerns from the Legal Services Board  (LSB) over poor performance and LeO’s continued failure to meet targets.
The latest figures, included in a paper for last month’s LSB board meeting, show that LeO resolved 48% of cases within 90 days in October, compared to a target of 60% set by the LSB. LeO’s own target was 70%.
The average cost of cases rose to just over £1,900 in October, from £1,865 in the previous month. The target is £1,750.
Only on quality – measured by the average satisfaction of complainants and lawyers – did LeO exceed its target, which was set at 40%, by maintaining a rate of 58%.
In a letter to Sir Michael Pitt, chair of the LSB, attached to a report on the performance plan, Steve Green, chair of the OLC, said the new measures were “much more closely aligned” to the work actually carried out.
“We have been very clear that this year is a period of change, consolidation and of refocusing for the OLC and the Legal Ombudsman scheme,” Mr Green said.
“We have worked with interim senior management to stabilise the organisation’s performance, revise its processes and structure, and set out a vision of a mature, ombudsman-led, quality-focused organisation which is resourced and organised to deliver its strategic priorities effectively and efficiently.
“We now have the permanent chief executive and chief ombudsman we need to deliver that vision and lead a high-performing organisation. By the beginning of 2016/17, we expect our performance to be on an upward trajectory.”
The plan retains the lower timeliness targets of 60% of complaints to be resolved within 90 days and 90% within 180 days, and drops the target of 35% of complaints resolved within 56 days; this now becomes a more informal measure.
The 40% quality target would be kept for the time being while more sophisticated performance measures were developed.
Costs targets would be changed to comprise all LeO’s costs in handling complaints, including all cases received rather than investigated and advice to consumers who do not have a complaint.
The OLC argued in the paper that the unit costs measure was “highly sensitive to short-term changes in activity volumes” and that the “ultimate driver” behind the failure to meet the target was a “reduction in overall demand against forecast” since January 2015. OLC reported that case volumes were “19% below planned activity levels”.
The OLC also warned that if Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spending controls “impact on their ability to deliver on recruitment”, it would further reduce the number of cases that could be resolved.
It is currently waiting for approval from the MoJ to increase the ombudsman pool, so that the current backlog can be dealt with and a flexible resource be put in place for the future, as first revealed on this website  in October.
Four internal candidates have now been identified to take up post as temporary ombudsmen, and a further six external personnel have been identified to be called upon at times of high demand.
Kathryn Stone, a police complaints commissioner, was appointed Chief Ombudsman last month, and will take on her new role in January.