OSS backlog set to double

The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors' (OSS) delay in allocating complaints to case workers is set to double from six months to a year unless something is done, the regulatory body warns.
The revelation came the week the Government pledged to assign a watchdog to oversee the OSS, vowing to give the legal services ombudsman Ann Abraham the power to make binding decisions on the compensation that defaulting lawyers will have to pay.
Geoff Hoon, Minister of State at the Lord Chancellor's Department, told the Commons that Abraham is likely to report that the OSS has failed to resolve complaints more quickly or achieve greater credibility in complainants' eyes, as demanded in her last report.
Hoon said: “The greatest concern is the backlog of 9,000 complaints – a backlog that is increasing. Complaints are not allocated to a case officer for some six months.”
An OSS spokesman told The Lawyer that unless there are more resources the delays will increase.
“Unless something is done by the end of the year, the delays [before cases are allocated to case workers] could be a year. We need an appropriate level of resources.”
He says the proposed changes to SIF and the Legal Aid Board will add to the OSS's burden this year.
Several plans to ease the OSS's problems, he adds, are being considered, including placing more responsibility on lawyers to deal with the complaints at their source, roping in local law societies to act as mediators, and the introduction of harsher measures to deal with persistent offenders.
Hoon said the Government plans to establish a new post which will set targets for handling complaints and make recommendations about complaints systems.
He added: “However, we are aware of the efforts the Law Society is making to put its house in order, so the new powers will be held by an entirely new office. The office might be held by the ombudsman, but no decision has yet been made.”