Complaints-handling in good state for OLC to take over, says ombudsman

Manzoor: performance much improved over past seven years

The performance of the Legal Complaints Service (LCS) will provide a solid foundation from which the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) can build, the Legal Services Ombudsman said today.

In her final annual report before her role disappears with the opening in October of the OLC – also known as the Legal Ombudsman – Zahida Manzoor said “significant in-roads have been made in all the professional bodies’ complaint-handling processes enabling a speedier and more consistent approach to decision-making”.

The LCS is now achieving customer satisfaction averaging over 80% (in 2006 it was 52%), while Ms Manzoor has been happy with how the LCS handled the complaint in 72% of the 1,069 cases referred onto her in 2009/10, the highest rating since she assumed the role in 2003. The average compensation payment she ordered in cases where she found the LCS to be at fault also reached a record low of £307 in the past year.

Further, the LCS also been able to reduce the ex gratia payments it has made to consumers unhappy with how their complaints were handled, from a high of £165,364 in the first quarter of 2004 to just £7,770 in the first quarter of this year.

The LCS is closing 70% of files within three months of receipt, 86% within six months and almost 100% closed within 12 months; in 2005/06, only 52% were closed with three months and the LCS had over 1,200 cases more than 12 months old.

Ms Manzoor also welcomed the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) commitment to address “some long-standing issues” in relation to its handling of complaints “by overhauling their decision-making processes, publishing their criteria, starting equality impact assessments, setting up a diversity working group, commissioning research and undertaking staff training”.

In 2009/10, Ms Manzoor was happy with how the SRA handled the complaint in 77% of the 470 cases referred to her, slightly down from the 80% peak two years ago. However, it was 53% back in 2003/4. Average compensation awards were at a low of £245.

She congratulated the Bar Standards Board on its consistently high satisfaction rating and the introduction of several initiatives to improve performance.

The ombudsman’s office itself has also improved its performance, according to the annual report. The average time for dealing with cases fell from 5.6 months in 2002/03 to 2.8 months in 2009/10 (although that year was something of an anomaly compared to all the subsequent years, and in some years it has performed better than in the past 12 months). Ms Manzoor said this nonetheless significantly exceeded the office’s government target of completing 90% of investigations within six months, whilst at the same time reducing expenditure from £1.9 million in 2005/06 to £1.5 million in 2009/10. The figures include Ministry of Justice overhead costs.


    Readers Comments

  • My personal experience with the Legal Services Ombudsman has been one of great frustration and dismay. I was left feeling that referring my complaints (twice) to that office was a complete waste of time. Since the LSO was/is partly funded by the very profession about which consumers complain, I was left wondering whether it wasn’t a case of ‘not wanting to bite the hand that feeds’. I hope the new set-up is going to be more consumer orientated as promised in the Legal Services Act 2007. For a start, the OLC must ensure that punitive damages are awarded against unscrupulous professionals, not the paltry £150 which perpetuates ‘old habits’.

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