OSS seeks to boost efficiency with gift voucher scheme

Staff at the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) are being offered gift vouchers to close the file on as many complaints as possible in time for Christmas.

The unusual incentive scheme is designed to help the OSS clear up a massive backlog of cases – and comes as the OSS prepares to publish its annual report on 11 December, when director Peter Ross will announce a new policy intended to help speed up complaints handling.

But the OSS as a whole is facing criticism from individual MPs for delays.

MP Gerry Sutcliffe signed an early day motion in the House of Commons condemning the OSS.

However, it was amended by other MPs, who said that the new regulator, which replaced the Solicitors Complaints Bureau (SCB) in June last year, should be given a few years' grace before it was criticised.

The incentive scheme has been a source of controversy among some OSS staff.

One staff member, who asked not to be named, said: “We are coming under pressure to speed up cases.”

OSS spokeswoman Zoe Etherington acknowledged that there were continuing problems of delay and backlog, but she said many cases had been inherited from the SCB.

She said the office had initiated a “reward and recognition scheme” but staff were set no targets and awards were made at the managers' discretion based on their assessment of who was doing well.

The office wanted to start the New Year on “a high” with as few cases as possible, she said.

Robert Sayer, Law Society treasurer said: “There is nothing wrong with offering an incentive scheme so long as cases are not rushed but are still handled efficiently.”

But he added that the problem was that there was currently no independent authority which could check that this was happening.