Legal Ombudsman say ‘create a bigger picture of what’s happening in legal services, what’s going wrong, and what needs to change’

The Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) reached the end of its 2020-23 strategy period in March 2023. Having put in place an interim strategy until the end of March 2024, it has now consulted on and published a new strategy for the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), which will run from 1 April 2024 to 31 March 2027. 

The OLC has also consulted on and published its Business Plan and Budget for 2024/25 – the first year of the new strategy.

Before and alongside the formal public consultation period, the OLC and LeO have engaged with a wide range of people and organisations with an interest in LeO’s work – including LeO’s staff, the Legal Services Board, the Legal Services Consumer Panel, the approved regulators, professional bodies, legal service providers and representatives of the consumer advice sector.

The plan is set in the context of what’s now a sustained increase in demand for LeO’s help.

This means there will be a renewed focus on the improvement of the service LeO provides, guided by customer feedback. And it will mean evolving how LeO delivers that service, based on the principles of proportionality and efficiency that have underpinned its transformation –supported by the use of technology.

Accessibility to LeO will increase, in view of what they have called a ‘vital need to identify and address customer vulnerability and barriers to redress, and against a backdrop of continued pressure on the cost of living’.

LeO say that they are ‘confident this ambition is shared by the majority LeO’s stakeholders’.

LeO has said that complaints don’t only matter individually – but taken together, create a bigger picture of what’s happening in legal services, what’s going wrong, and what needs to change.

The Ombudsman are in a position to provide insight into how consumers and legal providers interact, and the causes of legal complaints. They say they need to do more with this – ‘helping to influence and inform the regulatory framework and standards, working together’ with regulators and in alignment with the LSB.

LeO said: 

“It is important that the legal sector – and regulators in particular – are accountable for how they’re engaging with LeO’s insights to drive higher standards and better outcomes.

“Crucially, our commitment to this strategic objective doesn’t compromise our commitment to  the other. Our ability to deliver relevant, impactful learning and insight depends on our providing a timely, effective and efficient service. Equally, we can’t deliver a timely, effective and efficient service if we don’t feed back what we’re seeing, helping legal service providers and consumers prevent issues and complaints at source.

“As we said in our consultation, this will be a journey for LeO – and the legal sector – over the course of the strategy. 2024/25 will involve delivering in priority areas, while building capacity and scoping a programme for future years – and contributing to the LSB’s programme of work on first tier complaints.

“Consistent with feedback we’ve received, we’ll prioritise interventions that we think will have the most impact on delivering better outcomes for those relying on legal services. As we do so, we’ll engage with service providers, their regulators and representatives of both providers and consumers to help us evaluate and develop our programme going forward.”

The consultation has confirmed that there’s strong recognition in the legal sector of the business case for the “invest to save” approach: the time and resource gains from the early resolution and prevention of complaints, and the commercial benefits of more satisfied customers.

Having considered the feedback LeO are maintaining our proposal that, in this first year, they will make a small but significant increase in learning and insight capacity they’ve also retained their proposal not to increase LeO’s operational resource, but instead to continue to absorb demand. Changes to time limits and other Scheme Rules, introduced in April 2023, haven’t yet resulted in the lower demand anticipated. 

In the coming year, in line with stakeholder feedback, LeO will continue to focus on making its processes more efficient – and over the course of the strategy, look for opportunities for more fundamental change to enable ‘even greater efficiency, flexibility and proportionality’.

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