The Legal Services Board (LSB) has invoked its statutory power to set performance targets for the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) – the body that oversees the Legal Ombudsman – because of concerns that current targets are at risk of not being met and there are “inherent structural features [that] are likely to prevent significant improvements in performance being made”.
In correspondence published today, LSB chairman Sir Michael Pitt said also that adequate measures to understand the quality of output and user satisfaction are “not yet in place”.
He said the two bodies shared the view that a number of factors “may” combine over the coming months “to impact adversely the performance of the Legal Ombudsman scheme”.
“These include the prospect for significant internal and operational changes as you work to deliver transformational change as you respond to issues identified in your annual report and accounts 2013/14.”
He said the targets the LSB has set are intended to act as ‘trigger’ thresholds, “in the sense that performance below these levels would trigger an obligation… on OLC to explain to the LSB why performance had slipped to this level and what steps the OLC is taking to remedy the situation”.
The LSB target of resolving at least 60% of cases within 90 months is lower than the OLC’s own figure of 70%, and the LSB stressed that it expected the OLC to continue to meet its existing commitments. “The new LSB thresholds act as a trigger for our detailed scrutiny in 2015/16, and not the limit of our shared expectations for scheme performance or the limit of our ambitions for the future.”
The other LSB targets are that the unit cost per case must not exceed £1,750 in any rolling quarter and the average satisfaction of complainants and lawyers – regardless of the outcome of the case – must not fall below 40% in any quarter.
The LSB has invoked a further power under the Legal Services Act 2007 that require the OLC to report by 1 November on its proposals for a “comprehensive framework” for key performance indicators and performance measures that will apply from 1 April 2016. An interim report will have to be submitted by 1 September.
Sir Michael said the LSB had not taken this step lightly. “The intention is designed [sic] to support the OLC’s own ambition to see a step change in performance and to mitigate the possibility of unacceptable risks to consumers and the professions of any decline in the Legal Ombudsman’s performance.”
In his reply, OLC chairman Steve Green outlined the changes at the organisation – including work on an improved case management system and taking on jurisdiction for claims management companies – and said new ways of working are being explored to improve efficiency and quality. There is also a reorganisation aimed at developing “a much more comprehensive and effective data analysis and research function”.
With a largely new OLC board, Mr Green said there was a commitment to improving performance levels and finding better ways to measure them. “We have made this plain to the LSB. We have also shared our concerns that the changes necessary to achieve that may have some short-term impacts on certain existing performance targets.”