Law Society warns OLC to prepare for likely increase in complaints
Complaints often rise during times of 'political and economic turbulence'
The Law Society has issued a response to the Office for Legal Complaints' (OLC) business plan and budget 2023/24, and said while the Legal Ombudsman service (LeO) has made some strides in improving its performance, it must not lose focus on tackling its backlog.
Law Society president Lubna Shuja said: "Reducing the backlog of cases waiting to be investigated must continue to be the priority for LeO”. She warned the LeO that during times of “political and economic turbulence”, the number of complaints tends to rise.
“LeO must ensure it has appropriate contingency plans in place to deal with this potential increase in demand in the short term and avoid looking too far ahead. It must remain focused on the immediate and pressing need to reduce the backlog, while remaining vigilant to the impact of any further economic downturn that could happen,” said Shuja.
She also said the Society “remain concerned” about underlying causes of staff underperformance and attrition levels. She said: “While there has been a slight improvement in the levels of staff sickness, they still remain high”.
Shuja also flagged that despite receiving a substantial combined budget increase over the last two years, the OLC has requested a further funding increase of almost 10 per cent.
“We appreciate the challenging economic conditions under which LeO operates, including a looming recession, a cost-of-living crisis and the challenge of recruiting and retaining skilled staff. However, these stresses are not unique to LeO. Our members are also operating in the same challenging environment,” said Shuja.
“The proposed 8% staff pay rise is particularly concerning when sections of the legal profession have seen no increase in their fees for many years. Criminal legal aid solicitors have not had a pay rise for over 25 years and fees have in fact been cut.
“Civil legal aid solicitors have also not seen a pay increase for many years and the number of solicitors with legal aid contracts has reduced from 3,336 in 2011-2012 to 1,665 in 2021-2022”, added Shuja.
“Any increase in LeO’s budget, which is substantially funded by a levy on the solicitors’ profession via practising certificate fees, could be a particularly heavy burden on some members of the profession as they continue to face unprecedented financial pressures.
“Consumers may also be affected as law firms may have to raise their fees to pay their regulatory costs, meaning access to justice may be impacted”.