Appeal Committee for St Mary's High School, Cheshunt (98/B/0856 & 98/B/1721)
Two complainants appealed unsuccessfully against the refusal of places for their children at the grant-maintained secondary school. They complained that the committee did not give adequate consideration to their arguments for places and that it was unreasonable not to admit their children. The ombudsman found procedural flaws affecting all 30 or so appeals. The appeal committee had received additional information about the asserted prejudice to the school if additional children were to be admitted which was not known to every appellant. There was no representative of the school's admission committee present at the appeals and appellants were therefore not afforded a full opportunity to challenge the school's case. The committee decided to admit a further seven children. The ombudsman concluded that the committee did not appreciate the need to give further consideration under the second (balancing) stage of the appeal process, to the remaining cases after the seven had been identified. He concluded that these flaws deprived all the appellants of a proper appeal. In respect of one complainant, the ombudsman considered that the committee had not given proper consideration to the fact that her child would have been allocated a place by the admission committee if the application had not been wrongly addressed, and did not give proper consideration to the fact that the school was the parent's first choice. Additionally, the committee perceived the appellant as aggressive during the appeal hearing - the ombudsman considered that this was wrongly a factor in the committee's decision. On balance, the ombudsman concluded the child would have been admitted if the committee had given fair and proper consideration to the appeal. He recommends that the child now be offered a place at the school in the appropriate year group. In respect of the other appeal, the ombudsman recommends the parent be offered a new appeal hearing before a fresh appeal panel having the same obligations and power of the original appeal committee.
A couple wished to purchase their home under the right to buy scheme. The council delayed in reaching a decision as to the correct position of the boundary, and the complainants withdrew from the sale. They later made a second application and the council drew up a conveyance plan which showed the boundary as it existed on the ground. The complainants believe that the land conveyed to them includes a strip which has been encroached upon by their neighbour. The Council believes that the true position of the boundary remains in doubt. This failure to decide on the true position amounts to maladministration. As a result the complainants have suffered inconvenience and frustration in trying to ascertain whether there has been encroachment ontheir land. The ombudsman recommended that the council should: (a) carry out a detailed comparison of the deeds of both the complainants' property and that of their neighbour, with an accurate survey of the situation on the ground to decide the true position of the boundary; (b) determine, after taking account of legal advice and the views of both parties, whether or not it owns the land between the two properties and, if it does, to whom (if anyone) it wishes to convey the land in question; (c) facilitate, in the light of this decision, the amendment of the title deeds of the relevant property and meet the entire costs of doing so; and (d) pay the complainants£300 for the injustice and for their time and trouble in bringing their complaint to the attention of the council and the local government ombudsman.
Burnley BC (97/C/3410)
'Mr Wainwright' (not his real name) complained on behalf of the Ramblers' Association about the way in which the council decided to close a footpath by using an inappropriate planning procedure rather than the proper procedure provided under highways legislation; and failed to consult with the Ramblers' Association and advertise the proposed closure in a newspaper. Because of Mr Wainwright's complaints, the footpaths which are the subject of the report have not been closed, but he has been put to considerable time and trouble to achieve that outcome. The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice and recommends the council to pay Mr Wainwright£250 for his time and trouble. The council should also follow the appropriate procedure in future.
Liverpool City Council (97/C/2026 & 97/C/2052)
Housing transfers & council housing repairs
'Mrs Rose' (not her real name) applied for rehousing by the council on grounds of overcrowding. She complains that the council did not deal properly with the application and in particular did not treat her in the same way as other applicants with rent arrears, and that as a result the family had to live in overcrowded conditions for longer than necessary. Mrs Rose also complains that the house suffered from a number of electrical and other faults which were not repaired within a reasonable time, and that complaints of harassment were not properly dealt with. When Mrs Rose applied for rehousing the family was statutorily overcrowded. The council does not have a policy which ensures that it complies with the legal obligation to give reasonable preference to those who are statutorily overcrowded as opposed to those who are overcrowded according to the council's own standard. There were several shortcomings in the way the council dealt with Mrs Rose's application for rehousing. The most significant was the allocation of the Rose family into the category for those overcrowded by two bedrooms and the failure to follow usual practice for applicants with rent arrears by not making informal offers to the Rose family. The council was not able to supply an accurate record of repair work undertaken to the Roses' home. Although there are records which show that some reported faults were repaired promptly, it is likely that there was delay in responding to others and that this caused an injustice to Mrs Rose and her family. The council was found to have dealt with Mrs Rose's complaints regarding harassment correctly and according to its own policy. The ombudsman recommended the council to identify a suitable house for the Rose family, offer them the opportunity to clear their rent account, and pay them compensation of£500.
Norwich City Council (97/B/4507)
The complainant is the secretary of a management company set up by residents to run the block of flats where they live. The flats are opposite two fast food takeaways. The complainant says that the takeaways have been regularly opening after midnight in breach of the planning conditions attached to their premises. He alleges that the Council has failed to stop this late night opening, and that it has failed to implement, or has inconsistently applied, its policy on opening hours. The complainant says that, as a result, local residents suffer nuisance from people using the takeaways late at night. The ombudsman found that the council had not investigated all the options for taking action to stop the takeaways opening after midnight. He also found that there was delay in taking action and that the council's approach to late night opening was confused and inconsistent. In addition, he found that the council had failed to act forcefully and had not explained properly why it had failed to stop the takeaways opening late. The ombudsman recommended the council to pay the management company£2,500 for failing to deal successfully with the late night opening of the takeaways for four years. He also recommended the council reviews its policy on the late night opening of hot food takeaway premises in the inner city.
Bristol City Council (97/B/4599)
Council housing management
The council repossessed the complainant's flat on the grounds of 'surrendered tenancy', while she was away nursing her mother in another city. Her furniture and other items were taken into storage, but some items were found missing on her return. The ombudsman found maladministration by the council which caused distress to the complainant and her daughter, and recommended that the council should pay her£750 plus£250 for her time and trouble in making the complaint.
Local settlement reports
Kirklees MBC (97/C/4829)
Housing allocations/register & homelessness
The complaint concerns the council's failure to deal properly with a request for rehousing from a homeless person. The complainant was given wrong advice that she could not be rehoused because of rent arrears, as that policy was not then in force. There was unreasonable delay in deciding on the complainant's eligibility for rehousing as a homeless person and informing the complainant of that decision. The council further delayed in passing a request for transfer to another council and made inadequate arrangements for a private interview with the complainant. The result was that the complainant's request for rehousing was delayed by several weeks. The council has paid the complainant's removal and storage costs and a further£500 to compensate her for her distress and her time and trouble caused by its delay. The council has also taken steps to improve its procedures in the future. The ombudsman considers that the council's actions provide a satisfactory settlement of the complaint.
Findings of no maladministration
A nationwide charitable trust, involved in the provision of housing, complained about the way the council disposed of land in which the trust was interested. The site was sold to a rival developer. Allegations included a failure to consult interested parties and shortcomings in the way the council considered a planning application by the trust. The ombudsman found no maladministration by the council, and did not uphold the complaint.
Kingston upon Hull City Council (98/C/2945)
'Mr & Mrs Rowan' (not their real names) complained that the council failed to advise them of the implications of a revised procedure for admission to its schools. That revision followed a judgement of the courts which meant that the council's previous practice of automatically reserving places at a catchment area school was ruled out. The council sought to inform all affected parents of the changes directly. The complainants say that they did not receive that information. The ombudsman found no maladministration by the council.
Kingston upon Hull City Council (98/C/1276, 98/C/1315, 98/C/1316, 98/C/1747 & 98/C/2768) FIVE SEPARATE REPORTS
Five sets of parents complained separately about how the council had dealt with applications for the school of their choice. They had applied unsuccessfully for places at an all girls school but lived outside the catchment area for that school. The catchment area concerned was unique in Hull in that it contained three schools - two single sex schools (for girls and boys respectively) and a mixed school. Traditionally, parents living within the area were guaranteed a place at one of the single sex schools or the mixed school. A court judgement meant the council had to ask parents to express a positive preference. The council decided to allow parents within that area only the option of expressing a preference for two schools in that area. The result was that parents outside the area were denied places at a school which was their first preference, but places at that school were given to children for whose children it was a second preference only. The ombudsman could see why those parents who were denied a place saw that as unfair. She did not find maladministration. The council had to adapt very rapidly to a court judgement that had profound effects on its allocation system. It did not spot all potential issues at the outset but that is not surprising. The joint catchment area presented a particular set of issues and the council's response was pragmatic, guided by legal advice and, in context, not maladministration.