ACSO responds to the Legal Ombudsman consultation 'Business Plans and Budget 2022/23’

Posted on Wed, 15/12/2021

The Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) has responded to the Legal Ombudsman Service (LeO) consultation on its business plan and budget for 2022-23.

Rachel Cairnes, policy and public affairs advisor at ACSO, said "As recognised in the consultation document, LeO is behind the trajectory of performance improvement and recovery that it set for itself. The focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the scheme is to be commended, yet there remain many significant challenges that the service needs to overcome, including long waiting times, an increase in the backlog of complaints and staff attrition.

"ACSO is a member of the LeO Advisory Group, established in April 2021 to challenge LeO's ways of working and provide advice on ways to reduce the backlog and improve operational performance. As such, we have been provided with in-depth information on LeO's recovery plan and the progress made. In particular, the range of initiatives that LeO has investigated and/or implemented is notable. This includes the pilots on early resolution of cases in the pre-assessment pool (PAP), robotic process automation, the canvassing of thoughts from staff working at the ombudsman service, and the review of the Scheme Rules (including with the Legal Services Board)). 

"Overall, despite the substantial challenges that remain, we are confident that LeO is moving in the right direction. Many of the performance strategies it had implemented will take effect over the long term, such as the significant investment in recruitment and training new investigators. We hope to see the benefits of LeO's innovation work and wider improvement initiatives come to fruition over the course of the 2022/23 financial year. As stated by the LSB, "LeO is not losing sight of the need to make improvements across the organisation, a factor that further reinforces the sustainability of progress".

Cairnes continued: "Earlier this year, ACSO sought feedback from its members on how they believe LeO could be improved. All respondents were claimant law firms with large market shares in personal injury and other areas of law. The size of the PAP was cited by all respondents as a leading cause of frustration for consumers and legal service providers.

"At the end of September the number of cases in the PAP stood at 5,677 against the LeO business plan forecast of 5,225. This represents a 9 per cent increase on the trajectory of performance improvement that LeO set for itself, as well as an increase of 128 per cent from March 2020 where 2,491 people were waiting for an investigation. Moreover, LeO expects there to remain a substantial backlog by the end of 2023/24, albeit at a "more manageable level" and with reduced consumer wait times.

"Reducing the size of the PAP and the waiting times for those consumers within it must remain the priority for LeO. The minimum six-month wait for an investigation to start is likely to frustrate consumers and will service to undermine public confidence in legal services and their regulation. Although the wait times are published on the LeO website, the information is not easy to find, and therefore does not aid the management of consumer expectations."


ACSO members can download the full consultation submission from the members' area of the ACSO website.