How the Legal Ombudsman’s Office ripped off the taxpayer with a £1m irregular incentive scheme

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

What  would you think if the organisation that handles your complaint against a poorly performing solicitor or barrister was itself ripping you off as a taxpayer?

That  is the extraordinary situation in the Office of Legal Complaints or Legal Ombudsman for the last six years where well over £1m extra cash has been paid to its staff  without approval from anyone just to keep them from taking jobs in the private sector.

This was exposed last month in a  virtually unreported disclosure from the National Audit Office. I have written it up for Tribune magazine this month.

The office handles tens of thousands of complaints every year from the general public about poor service from legal professionals – whether it is over conveyancing,personal injuries, wills or family disputes. What emerged about what was going in this office of over 200 people has led to resignation or dismissal  ( whether you take his version or the Ministry of Justice’s ) of its £167,000 a year head, Adam Sampson  who has been described by his permanent secretary as “ not a fit and proper person” to continue  as an accounting officer to Parliament.

He presided over what the NAO called a ” novel and contentious” irregular payment scheme which saw its top officers and the rest of his staff benefit from pay enhancements well beyond anything else available in Whitehall currently suffering pay freezes and one per cent pay rises.

The two unauthorised pay schemes were aimed to retain legal staff who might be tempted to leave and join the private sector. One for senior executives was according to the annual accounts “a benefit in addition to salary and was ­believed by the OLC at the time to be necessary to attract and retain the best candidates nationally to senior posts within the organisation”. Some £33,000 was paid out the last financial year – ­altogether some £348,000 has been paid over six years.

The second scheme for general staff allowed up to an extra 3 per cent to be paid on top of their salaries to encourage them not to leave to join the private sector. This cost nearly £900,000.

Neither scheme was authorised by the Ministry of Justice and neither was spotted for four years either. Successive Lord Chancellors -Kenneth Clarke and Chris Grayling didn’t notice.

On top of this there is suggestion of  alleged expenses fiddling by the chief executive.

The report said an arrangement from 2009 assumed “Mr Sampson to be living in Birmingham [where the OLC offices were based from January 2010] despite his only spending up to two nights a week in Birmingham away from his London home.”

The claims involved train fares which could not be solely justified for business use between London and Birmingham.

The Ministry has reported him to the tax authorities for not declaring them as a benefit in kind. Altogether he had received over £27,000 in benefits in kind over the last two years in office.

What is extraordinary is that the two schemes are still in existence today and the Treasury is still trying to end them this year. The reason is that the contracts drawn up by lawyers are so watertight that the Treasury is having difficulty unravelling them.

One can only say that if the lawyers at the Office of Legal Complaints spent as much time providing a good service to the  public as they did in drawing up lucrative contracts for themselves Whitehall would be a much better place.

15 thoughts on “How the Legal Ombudsman’s Office ripped off the taxpayer with a £1m irregular incentive scheme

  1. Absent is the quality and bias of Adam Sampson written judgments and Feb 2013 the High Court exposed his bias. He was the Chief.Did he augment payment to his assistant judges? he was the Chief. His bias was flagrant . When reported to the Legal Adviser to the Law Society in 2011 his response was ” merely mission creep” . Are the LSO prepared to re-open cases determined by a judge, who gives me the appearance of being dishonest? The Culture of the LSO is tied up with Council members alerted to something wrong but preoccupied with civil rights in Venezuela.
    Richard Moorhead of UCL and Steven Vaughan of Birmingham legal Depts, are best consulted.
    They both have research and insight into behaviour in the legal profession.
    The City firms had no problem with transfers of funds and Money laundering regs. I think the price of a corrupt Chief Ombudsman was “leave the big boys alone but do whatever you want” to maximize and publicize complaints of the smaller, less wealthy solicitors. The Law Society were alerted by me. We must both have the letters of 2011-2012. This story goes much deeper. It was Whitehall that did the uncovering of lax standards at the LeO; whilst the Law Society looked the other way. Have the Law Society issued any statement on what it knew about LeO and when?Arnold Rosen.

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  2. If it was discovered that a Judge had been dishonest what would be done about any unhappy solicitor who had been fined in a way he claimed was biased and unjust?
    See Woodleys Case of 4 February 2013.in the High Court
    AR

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  3. Nothing surprises me about our financial services anymore as we the People of this country do not count. As long as we feed the big wigs in there Golden toilets we will continue to lose to them. Having a corrupt Government only aids these people to carry on.

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    • Yes it does raise a levy from the profession to fund its work. But it can’t all come from the levy or the National Audit Office would have no remit to audit its finances and the Ministry of Justice and Treasury have no say over how it paid its staff – it would just be a private matter!

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    • I am glad you are sorting this out. However it is extraordinary that the auditor general has had to qualify your accounts two years running because you have been unable to close down yet the ” novel and contentious” payments to staff because of the contracts you signed with them.

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  4. The civil service ethos seems to have been turned on its head. The process started with senior position pay rates aimed at attracting private sector high-fliers and seems to have ended up with senior civil servants awarding themselves private sector pay rates. Dead fish.

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  5. Excuse me jumping the gun if you’re posting later, David. I thought your Canary Islands readers who’ve spent the last three years labouring in the Jimmy Savile reputation defence industry would be unhappy if they missed the following:

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/feb/25/serious-failings-bbc-jimmy-savile-abuse-72-woman-children-report

    “…

    In total, Savile sexually assaulted 57 females and 15 boys. Three incidents of rape and attempted rape took place on BBC premises, Smith said, and the youngest victim to whom Smith spoke was eight years old at the time of the offence.

    The review found that Savile would “gratify himself whenever the opportunity arose” and in “virtually every one of the BBC premises at which he worked”, which included BBC Television Theatre, Television Centre, Broadcasting House, Egton House, Lime Grove studios and studios in Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow.

    “Savile had a voracious sexual appetite,” Smith writes. “He was obsessively interested in sex.”

    …”

    We’re still supposed to accept the notion that he never felt inclined to try his luck at Duncroft?

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    • And it’ll be interesting to hear whether Jeremy Corbyn is able to glimpse parallels between Janet Smith’s description of the BBC and thee response of senior Islington Labour Party members to what they were told on various occasions by a number of different Islington whistle-blowers.

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