Performance at the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is finally improving, with more cases being closed, but dealing with the backlog is only lengthening wait times for new complainants.
Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints – the board that oversees LeO – said that “cultural change is starting to be felt” at the organisation, which has had several years of troubles and poor achievement against its performance indicators.
In her regular review for the Legal Services Board, Ms Davies said LeO exceeded assumptions for case closures in April (488 against a target of 473), the fourth month in a row, while the first week of May saw the highest number of closures since 2018.
However, “there is absolutely no complacency”, she said, with the pre-allocation pool (PAP) – complaints that have been accepted but not allocated to an investigator – still extremely high at 4,840 and causing significant delays in how quickly complaints are handled.
“The board continues to be assured by the laser focus that the executive is bringing to addressing both the size of the PAP and the waiting times for those customers within it.
“Investigator case holding has now increased to 15.64 cases per investigator (this compares with 12.10 cases per investigator in April 2020).
“There has been an increase in timeliness across all complexities. This is down to the resolution of older cases and is consistent with messaging the board received in March when it was noted that customer journey time will continue to rise, exacerbated by old cases coming to conclusion, until new ways of working and improved Investigator productivity can be embedded.”
In a blog on the LeO website, Ms Davies said the backlog recovery plan was currently focused on identifying cases “that may not need a full investigation to be resolved, for example, where a discussion about the first-tier remedy could resolve the case.
“Work is also happening on complaints about closed firms either to obtain the case file at an early stage or, if it looks like a remedy is needed, checking it is suitable for indemnity insurance or the compensation fund.”
The LSB heard that other techniques being used include “guided negotiation”, specialist law teams and robotic process automation.
Further, the number of complaints about LeO’s own service upheld by its independent adjudicator hit a six-year low of 12.5%. Delays and their management were the main cause of service complaints.
Ms Davies said significant work has taken place in the last six months to try and improve this. “This has included improving the information about wait times on LeO’s website, piloting a system which allows LeO to send bulk updates to those waiting at the front end, and improving the content of letters.”
There has also been a major recruitment exercise launched to hire 18 investigators – having started the financial year with a deficit of 10 investigators – eight general enquiries team advisors, a minimum of two team leaders and two new ombudsmen.
In her blog, Ms Davies said: “[We have] been clear that moving the Legal Ombudsman to a position of sustainable performance and working through the backlog will take two years.
“This year will not be about big leaps of progress, but it will be about consistent progress and incremental steps which show the scheme is moving in the right direction and that improvement can be sustained.”