No let-up: impact of Covid on Legal Ombudsman laid bare

Davies: Moving in the right direction

Covid did not significantly reduce the number of dissatisfied clients contacting the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) but it hit the organisation’s ability to deal with them, according to figures out today.

The pandemic – which at its height reduced LeO’s capacity by a third – exacerbated longstanding performance issues and meant that, as at 31 March 2021, there were 4,829 cases waiting to be investigated, compared to 2,464 a year earlier.

But LeO’s annual report cautiously noted signs of progress since as various new strategies begin to have an effect under a much-changed leadership team.

The body received 103,000 contacts in all during the year (compared to 112,000 in 2019/20), accepted 4,573 for investigation (6,425) and closed 4,702 (6,384).

The average time to resolve a low-complexity case rose from 182 days to 285, from 281 days to 372 for a medium-complexity case and from 526 days to 616 for a high-complexity case.

As a result, the ‘unit cost’ per case – LeO’s budget divided by the number of closed cases – jumped from £1,927 to £2,798.

Conveyancing accounted for 30% of resolved cases, followed by family law (14%), with poor communication a feature of a fifth of them. Delay (17%), cost (16%) and failure to advise (14%) were the other main failures.

Despite the problems, for those consumers who were satisfied with the outcome of their case, over 90% were satisfied with LeO, and over 80% of service providers were also satisfied.

LeO said there was progress too: “Performance modelling has been rigorously tested and in the latter months of the year case closures met performance targets.

“Alongside this there are cautious signs that staff morale, which had hit its lowest last year, has improved considerably during the year.”

Elisabeth Davies, who since April 2020 has chaired LeO’s oversight board, the Office for Legal Complaints, wrote in the report: “While we are moving in the right direction, ultimately confidence will return when the backlog begins to reduce. In terms of numbers the last year has been difficult…

“While it is still early in the current business year, we are progressing as per the business plan: Staff are being recruited and monthly case closures have continued to exceed pre-pandemic levels.”

Chief ombudsman Paul McFadden, who joined in January, added: “We have been open with stakeholders about our position and the need for recovery.

“Our recovery planning is progressing, and we have seen steady signs that our performance is starting to recover… This is a reason for cautious optimism although there is much to do.”

One “clear area of progress” in 2020/21, he said, was the work undertaken “to enhance our business intelligence modelling and ensure this allows us to better understand performance and how this can be monitored and managed more effectively”.

In March, the Legal Services Board approved a 13% increase in LeO’s budget to £14.5m for the current year but warned that it must deliver this time or face losing its role in dealing with complaints against lawyers.

    Readers Comments

  • r purdue says:

    The legal ombudsman like all ombudsman so called “services” fails obysmally to fairly address the immense detriment that the public suffers from the effects and consequences of “distress and inconvenience ” the public is fobbed off with demeaning ammounts whilst at the same time being told that the paultry ammaounts being awarded are somehow “fair and reasonable” when they are absolutely no such thing . This failing not only blights the lives of the victims of this practice but it serves as the main driver of the extremely low standards of services being provided. from my lifes experience the worst of all is the legal profession. I believe that is because this profession attracts a disproportionate number of those who have grown up in a privaledged household whose ethical and moral values are particularly low and they are brought up with a perverse sense of entitlement to be paid high levels of remuneration for doing very little and an expectation that the levels of competency expected of them should have a very low threshold of what is acceptable . Only by imposing a far greated incentive to improve their attitude to providing a professional customer focused service will the quality of service be elevated above its current totally unacceptable and disgraceful levels . This in turn would result in a much reduced number of complaints which would drastically release those working in ombudsman services to take up positions in the industries that they are adjudicating upon thus allowing them to move from being an overhead that is a burdon on society and would be able to directly contribute to it whilst at the same time greatly improving upon the extremely low quality of service that has an absolutely immense scope for improvement .

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