The Law Society has issued a statement saying that the Legal Ombudsman service (LeO) must take “radical action” if it wishes to retain the confidence of both public and profession.
The Law Society said that changes made this year by the LeO are starting to show some signs of improvement, but the pace of change and performance levels remain a concern.
The statement follows attempts from the LeO to reduce significant backlogs built up over a period of time, including delays which it attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite a 13% budget increase this year, the number of cases yet to be investigated increased by 9% to 5,677.
“We welcome the hard work of the LeO’s new leadership team in addressing their challenges both internally and externally and they have been transparent about the difficulties they’ve faced this business year,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“We do, however, remain concerned about LeO’s performance levels and the fact the backlog of cases waiting to be investigated has increased again this year, despite a substantial increase in budget. Accordingly, LeO must take radical action, to increase the momentum of change. It must make better use of existing resources and budget as well as deliver a much-improved service for its customers.
We would support legislative changes that would allow it to outsource or amend its Scheme Rules to help reduce the backlog, otherwise there could be reputational risks to the profession and a reduction in public confidence in the ombudsman scheme.
LeO must definitively address the underlying causes of staff underperformance, as well as high sickness and attrition levels to ensure it keeps up with the demand for its service”, she added.
The LeO issued a business plan for 2022/23, in which it proposed to seek amendments to the Legal Services Act to gain the freedom to contract out some of its workload to agency or temporary staff.
But, says the LeO, caseloads are still “unacceptably high” and that without appropriate reform it expects them to remain substantial. The LeO has proposed a budget increase between 3.8% and 5.1% to aid with its response.