The new head of the Legal Complaints Service has made a fresh pledge to tackle delays plaguing the service. Paul McFadden said that the delays experienced by consumers and lawyers were ‘unacceptable’, as it emerged that complainants have been told they may have to wait up to 14 months for their case even to be opened.
The Gazette has seen an email to one client sent by the Legal Ombudsman in February stating that the file had been ‘triaged’, but that due to high demand, complaints were waiting 12-14 months to progress to assessment stage. The correspondence does not say how long the subsequent wait for a decision could take.
The complainant, who asked not to be named, said they expected a response within three or four months but were told LeO had only 250 people dealing with all cases.
Delays with the ombudsman service have been well documented, with the Legal Services Board recently warning that it would consider ‘alternative arrangements’ if an agreed 13% increase in LeO’s annual budget did not bring about improvements.
McFadden, who joined in January, has said that the backlog of cases is ‘something that we are committed to addressing with urgency.
‘Everything we do this year will be focused on reducing these delays and the number of people waiting to access our service,’ he added.
McFadden said new ways of working had been initiated, with users now receiving a letter to let them know a complaint is waiting, containing guidance on how the ombudsman resolves cases and what remedies are likely. McFadden said this provides complainants with a ‘good opportunity to reflect’ and assess if there is anything further they can do to resolve their issue.
The ombudsman is also looking at cases yet to begin to discover where a reasonable offer might already have been made and whether the matter could be closed without further intervention. Pilot projects will be run this year with a view to resolving cases before investigators get involved.
The Office for Legal Complaints said earlier this year that its minimum expectation, based on the adopted budget plan, was that the case backlog would come down from 4,943 to 3,609 by the end of 2022/23. Average waiting times for a response would be cut from 277 days earlier this year to 186 days in two years’ time.