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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN INVESTIGATION REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 18 OCTOBER 2001

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Findings of maladministration causing injustice ...
Findings of maladministration causing injustice

Fareham BC (00/B/9372)

Publicity for planning applications

The council granted planning permission for a two storey side extension to a house. 'Mr Watson' (not his real name for legal reasons) lives next door, but he was not notified of the planning application and was unaware of it until a year later when building work began. As a result Mr Watson was unable to make objections to the application.

The council advertised the planning application by notifying only neighbours whose properties abutted the application site. Mr Watson was not notified because a footpath separates his property from the application site. The ombudsman accepts that the council acted in accordance with its own policy, but considers that an exception to policy should have been made to notify Mr Watson as a neighbour likely to be affected.

The planning application was determined under delegated powers; if objections had been received, the application would have been determined by the planning committee. The ombudsman considers that, if the application had come before the planning committee, a condition would have been added requiring the landing window to be obscure-glazed in order to protect Mr Watson's amenity.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the council:

* makes Mr Watson an ex gratia payment of£250 for his time and trouble in pursuing his complaint

* uses its best endeavours to secure obscure glazing to the landing window at its own expense: or if this proves impossible, commissions an independent valuation of Mr Watson's property as existing and as it would be if the landing window were obscure-glazed, and pays him the difference in valuations, if any.

Nottingham City Council (00/C/9570)

Housing benefit

'Mr Fielding' (not his real name for legal reasons) complained about the way in which the council dealt with his claim for housing benefit and council tax benefit following a change in the composition of his household. He says that, as a result of the non-payment of housing benefit, he ran into arrears with his rent and the council (acting in its capacity as his landlord) issued a Notice of Seeking Possession while his claim for benefit was still pending and while the council had sufficient information from him to award benefit.

The ombudsman found that Mr Fielding had provided the council with sufficient information about the changes in composition of his household to enable it to determine his renewal claim for housing benefit and council tax benefit. Meanwhile the council's rent section, concerned at Mr Fielding's mounting rent arrears and at his failure to keep to an agreement to pay off the arrears at£2.65 per week, served Mr Fielding with a Notice Seeking Possession. In fact, almost all Mr Fielding's rent arrears were accounted for by the non-payment by the council of his housing benefit.

The ombudsman found maladministration that had caused injustice to thecomplainant. She recommends that the council should:

* pay Mr Fielding£200 for the distress and inconvenience he experienced and for his time and trouble in complaining

* review his claim and ensure that the correct amounts of non-dependant deductions have been applied

Leicestershire CC (00/B/8307)

Social services for adults

'Mrs Field' (not her real name for legal reasons) was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and then moved to a residential care home. She was in the home for a little under two years before her death in May 1996. The council charged her family and, after her death, her estate for the costs of her care. 'Mrs Smith', Mrs Field's sister, complained that, in the light of a judgement in the court of appeal in 1999, it was wrong for the council to charge for her care. The council accepted that it should not charge up to the point when specialist mental services had been deemed to have stopped being provided to Mrs Field. It decided when this was after Mrs Field's death.

The ombudsman concludes that government guidance did not provide for such a decision to be made retrospectively and to do so was maladministration. This meant that Mrs Smith had been deprived of the use of part of Mrs Field's estate which was taken by the council to pay for her care. He considers that the council's current advice to its staff is fundamentally flawed.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends the council to:

* pay Mrs Smith£250 for her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint with the council and with the ombudsman

* if the house of lords determines that the full cost (or any part of the cost) of after care should be met by the council, then reimburse the beneficiaries of Mrs Field's estate accordingly for the period from 19 September 1994 to 24 May 1996, with interest

* review its guidance to staff on discharging from after care to ensure that it fully complies with the law and government guidance

Charnwood BC (99/B/363)

Neighbour nuisance

'Mr Indic' (not his real name for legal reasons) and his family were the victims of a long series of incidents of antisocial behaviour by youths living near their home. There was at least some evidence that incidents were racially motivated, but the council failed to recognise the significance of this in its procedures or in the way the complaints were investigated, even when this was drawn to its attention by the Commission for Racial Equality and the local Racial Equality Council in 1997. The ombudsman concludes there were serious shortcomings in the way the council approached the matter, and that the family suffered unacceptable harassment over a much longer period than would have been the case had it acted correctly.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends the council to:

* pay Mr Indic the sum of£4,000

* either offer him a transfer of housing in accordance with its harassment policy, or investigate his complaints properly and decide what action it should take

* review its procedures and liaison arrangements with the police and the Racial Equality Council

Winchester BC (99/B/2964)

Enforcement

'Mr Smith' (not his real name for legal reasons) complained on behalf of a society representing a village in which there is a long history of problematic sites. The council failed to keep the society informed, on a reasonably structured and regular basis, of progress in outstanding enforcement investigations.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the council makes an ex gratia payment of£250 to the society to recognise time and trouble in pursuing the complaint. The council should also establish an effective system for regular liaison with the society on enforcement investigations affecting the village.

Findings of no maladministration

Congleton BC (99/C/5683, 00/C/814-5, 7349 & 8312)

Planning enforcement

Complaints that the council had failed to take enforcement action on unauthorised development at a mill and transport site near to the complainants' homes were not upheld by the ombudsman. Nor did she find any evidence of maladministration in the way the council had dealt with a telecommunications installation at the mill nor in its response to complaints of noise and dust emissions.

Richmondshire DC (00/C/8059, 7407, 9230, 10856 & 14813)

Environmental health

The complainants experience noise from a motor racing circuit near to their homes. In responding to their complaint, the council sought legal advice on the serving of abatement notices. Notices were served twice and withdrawn following legal advice. The ombudsman found no fault in the council's actions. Nor did she uphold an allegation that two members of the council had failed to declare interests during the decision-making process. The ombudsman expressed satisfaction with the council's arrangements for monitoring the noise.

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