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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN INVESTIGATION REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 22 JULY

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Findings of maladministration and injustice ...
Findings of maladministration and injustice

Bedfordshire CC (97/B/4416)

Highways (footpaths)

'Mr Exe' (not his real name), who was formerly footpath secretary to Bedfordshire Ramblers Association and is now an officer of Bedfordshire Rights of Way Association, complained about the council's failure to ensure that obstructions on footpaths were cleared or that acceptable diversions were provided without delay. Mr Exe reported obstructions caused by quarrying operations and clay extraction works, by building over footpaths and by ploughing and cropping. He felt that the council did not give sufficient priority to resolving these obstructions and that it should have used legal action where the obstructions were persistent.

The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice and recommended that the council should undertake a review of the adequacy of its arrangements for resourcing the administration of public rights of way and make any necessary improvements, monitor the condition of a particular lapsed footpath and take any appropriate action, and pay Mr Exe£250 as some contribution to his out-of-pocket expenses.

Newark & Sherwood DC (98/C/2623)

Planning: consideration/neighbour amenity, publicity for planning applications, enforcement

'Mr James' (not his real name) complained that (a) the council had failed to notify him of a proposed development a short distance from his property which would result in a severe loss of sunlight at the back of his house, and that (b) the council unreasonably granted planning permission for a development which had a detrimental effect on his amenity. The ombudsman concluded that (a) the council had probably sent the complainant notification of the planning application, but that (b) the planning case officer had failed to draw the attention of members of the planning committee to the proximity of the development to the complainant's house and that, had he done so, it is likely that the application would have been amended, or even that planning permission would have been refused. The ombudsman also criticised the council's failure to take timely and vigorous action to enforce a planning condition when the developer removed a hedge from the site's northern boundary, adjacent to the complainant's property, in breach of a planning condition.

The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice and recommended that the council should:

(1)pay for the district valuer to value the complainant's property and pay the complainant the difference between the value with a house next door and with a bungalow

(2)consider taking action for the replacement of a hedge on the northern boundary of the site

(3) if (2) proves impossible, pay the complainant the cost of planting a hedge on his side of the boundary

(4)ensure that reports to the planning committee draw attention to the position of adjacent properties

(5)ensure it has sufficient staff to fulfil its enforcement responsibilities satisfactorily

Lambeth LBC(98/A/2840, 2842 & 3007)

Housing benefit & local taxation

In October 1997 because circumstances changed for 'Mr Morgan' (not his real name for legal reasons), he ceased to receive job seekers allowance and began to receive incapacity benefit. He did not tell the council about this until he renewed his housing benefit claim in January 1998. Because of the change, Mr Morgan's housing benefit claim for the period 27 October 1997 to 1 February 1998 ceased to have effect. The council did not invite Mr Morgan to make a claim for backdating, and accepts it should have done so.

On 1 June 1998 the council assessed Mr Morgan's housing benefit claim from 2 February 1998 and decided to pay him benefit from that date. It decided to recover the benefit it had paid Mr Morgan for the period 27 October 1997 to 1 February 1998. In July Mr Morgan wrote to the housing benefit manager to ask why he had increasing rent arrears. The council did not link the letter to his file and did not answer it.

On 5 October 1998 Mr Morgan sent in another housing benefit claim form and requested backdating. The council agreed to backdate his benefit for the period 27 October 1997 to 1 February 1998, but then in December 1998 it reversed that decision because it had been made in error: Mr Morgan had not been asked to provide 'good cause' for backdating. He was then asked to provide the necessary evidence. In May 1999 Mr Morgan was able to do so and the council decided to pay the backdated benefit.

As a result of the difficulties with his housing benefit claim, Mr Morgan received a notice of seeking possession for rent arrears and a summons for arrears of council tax. The ombudsman finds there was maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the council should pay Mr Morgan£350.

Findings of no maladministration

Southwark LBC (96/A/4580)

Miscellaneous

The complainant had been the secretary of a voluntary organisation that had received substantial grant aid from the council for many years. In December 1996 the council decided not to provide any funding for the organisation in 1997/98. The organisation was unable to continue without the council's financial support and ceased to exist.

The complainant alleged that the council was at fault in the way it reached its decision not to pay any grant in 1997/98 and in its subsequent actions to repossess the premises which the trustees of the organisation leased from the council. He also complained that the council had never given a proper explanation of the reasons for its actions.

The ombudsman finds that the decision not to pay grant was taken properly by members, and that the complainant had been given a reasonable explanation of the council's reasons. The council's actions to secure possession of the property were prudent and necessary to protect the council's interest. The ombudsman concludes, on balance, that the council's actions were not taken with maladministration and so he does not uphold the complaint.

Local settlement reports

South Tyneside MBC (97/C/4580)

Leisure & recreation

A solicitor complained on behalf of a rifle club that the council had unreasonably revoked the licence of the club to use a council-owned shooting range, treated the club unfairly by comparison with its treatment of another local gun club, and did not respond reasonably to the club's request to have its licence restored. In consequence the club lost more than half its membership with a consequent loss of income to the club and the loss of pleasure for its members. The club also incurred legal costs.

The council accepted that it should have treated both clubs the same and offered to pay the club£1,000 plus its reasonable legal costs. The ombudsman accepts this as a satisfactory settlement of the complaint and commended the council for its positive response to her findings.

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