There has been a sharp rise in the number of complaints made about the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), its service complaint adjudicator has reported.
But Claire Evans said that, in general, LeO dealt with those complaints appropriately.
LeO received 183 service complaints in 2018/19 – up 42% from 129 the year before – of which 45 were referred to stage 2 of the process, to be considered by a senior manager. Some 28 were then referred on to Ms Evans.
She said the reason for the increase in complaints was not clear and LeO was investigating. “It could well be connected to the introduction of the customer experience specialist who now deals with all stage 1 service complaints.
“What is pleasing is that the percentage of those complaints going to stage 2 is at its lowest level for the last four years at (24.5%). Previously it has been as high as 43% (in 2016/17).
“On the whole, I have been satisfied by the responses provided by the customer experience specialist and the level of investigation that has been undertaken.”
Complaints about LeO’s services are first considered by the team manager responsible for the area where the complaint arose; if the complainant is not happy with the outcome, it goes to a senior member of staff, usually an ombudsman or operations manager; the final stage is Ms Evans, who is independent of LeO.
Though overall the decisions and explanations provided at the first two stages of the complaints process were appropriate, the adjudicator said, the “significant increase” in the number of cases reaching her – 62% of the stage 2 cases – was “disappointing”. The previous highest was 48%.
Ms Evans completed 25 cases during the year, which included 258 individual issues of complaint. She supported 35 of those individual issues in 16 of the cases.
The remedies included an apology from the chief ombudsman, compensation totalling £1,600 in seven cases, and for a complaint about a firm to be considered, as it had been missed previously.
Ms Evans wrote: “I have seen a number of cases this year where delays have been an issue. This is not reflected in the number of cases I have upheld because on the whole, complaints about delay have usually been accepted and remedied before the complaint comes to me.
“However, I have been disappointed to see increasing delays in complaints being allocated to an investigator this year, as well as delays in complaints awaiting an ombudsman’s decision.”
At the same time, she said LeO has improved the information it provided to complainants while their case awaited an ombudsman’s decision, while the wait times reduced as the year progressed.
“However, in terms of the cases awaiting allocation, what has been disappointing is that the customer’s expectations have not always been managed well and they have not always been regularly updated.”
Ms Evans also identified issues with stage 2 complaint responses “not always reflecting the evidence in the case”.
She explained: “There have been individual incidences of misunderstanding and/or a lack of attention to detail. In addition, customers were not always contacted to clarify their concerns as part of the stage 2 complaint investigation.
“I have made recommendations accordingly that have been adopted, and this should be set against my view that on the whole the stage 2 complaint responses have been appropriate and fit for purpose.”
Ms Evans said she had made 12 suggestions for service improvements, and found LeO “very receptive” to them.