OSS seeks funds to clear backlog

The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors is asking for more than £700,000 from the Law Society to help clear a projected backlog of 370 cases.

The OSS, whose operating costs account for around a third of the Law Society's budget, is to employ nine new staff, seven of whom will be investigative accountants. The total cost is £381,000 in salaries and an estimated £304,000 in potential overheads.

An OSS spokeswoman said the new staff would work on a range of cases from urgent to low priority. She said they were needed in part because the OSS had improved systems of detecting fraud or malpractice on the part of solicitors.

“Because the information network has improved it does generate more need for inspectors,” she added.

Paul Pharaoh, chair of the Law Society's compliance and supervision committee, said the funding increase was not welcome but it was necessary.

As investigators had been detecting solicitor fraud at an earlier stage, he added, there had been fewer large-scale frauds, resulting in annual contributions from individual solicitors to the compensation fund falling from £1,000 to £250.

Pharaoh said there had been an increase of output by each investigative accountant and a decreasing cost for each investigation, but these efficiency gains had not been enough.

The funding increase has been approved at committee stage but will go before the council this week. Some Law Society members are unhappy with the OSS request and are demanding that it work within its annual budget. They also claim it has increased its public profile, thereby generating work for itself.