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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN INVESTIGATION REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 22 JUNE

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

Croydon LBC (98/A/2154)

Social services for adults

Ms Casey (not her real name for legal reasons) has severe osteoporosis exacerbated by the serious injuries she sustained in a road accident about five years ago. The council decided that she had needs which call for the provision of community care services. Ms Casey complained that the level of service she received was based on inadequate consideration of her needs and that the level of service designated in her care plan was not consistently achieved.

The ombudsman finds that there was maladministration by the council and that it caused Ms Casey injustice. In particular, he finds that:

The council was wrong to say that the level of services specified in the care plan of May 1997 would enable Ms Casey to continue to receive financial support from the Independent Living Fund;

The council grossly delayed in completing satisfactorily the reassessment of Ms Casey's needs which the council decided in February 1998 was necessary;

In 1998 and 1999 the council changed the level of services specified in the care plan without the completion of the reassessment of Ms Casey's needs; and; the level of services Ms Casey has actually received has not consistently been the level specified in her care plan.

The ombudsman finds that Ms Casey has been denied the level of services to which she was entitled and has been caused prolonged uncertainty about what provision the Council should properly be making. This amounts to an injustice. The ombudsman recommends that the council should pay Ms Casey£1,000.

Leicester City Council (99/B/3192, 3421 & 3848)

Housing transfers, housing benefit & council housing repairs

Mr Elm and his lodger, Mr Rowan, (not their real names for legal reasons), lived in a council owned flat in a tower block which the council wished to demolish. The council offered a standard disturbance package to tenants. Mr Elm and Mr Rowan claim that the council's position regarding home loss and disturbance payments was unclear and incorrect. They sought reimbursement of their moving expenses from the council, some of which were agreed. The council told Mr Elm on 9 June that it was investigating a possible housing benefit overpayment. The council recovered the overpayment from Mr Elm's home loss payment without consulting him. Mr Elm was dissatisfied with the condition of the property offered to him, and the council agreed to carry out additional works, but not all of the repairs requested.

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

Credit Mr Elm's rent account with£1,500;

Reinstate the housing benefit overpayment debt - and enable him to pay in instalments or appeal;

Make him a further ex gratia payment of£350; and

Review its procedures.

Local settlement reports

Sheffield City Council (99/C/4797)

Housing benefit

Mr Hulme (not his real name for legal reasons) complained about delays in paying his housing benefit, as a result of which he was threatened with eviction by his landlord. The law says that claims should be determined within 14 days. Mr Hulme's claim took nine months to determine. The council has contracted out its housing benefit service to a private company.

The council accepts that there are problems with the administration of housing benefit and is taking action to improve the situation. It has also offered Mr Hulme£190 as compensation for the delay in his case. The ombudsman regards this, together with the payment of Mr Hulme's housing benefit arrears, as a reasonable local settlement of the complaint.

Findings of maladministration but no injustice

Hartlepool BC (98/C/2238 & 3087 & 99/C/2849)

Highways & planning enforcement

The complaints centre on a difference of opinion between the complainants (in this report called Mr Stuart, Mr Campbell and Mr Gunn (not their real names for legal reasons) as to whether an exemption notice, which would have relieved the developer of a small housing development of depositing a bond with the Council, could have been issued after building regulations approval was granted.

The complainants, who purchased plots and built their homes, fear they will have to pay to have the road made up to adoptable standards. The road was always intended to be private. The council has acknowledged a failure to issue an exemption notice.

The ombudsman concludes that the council's interpretation of the relevant legislation was not unreasonable, and that an exemption notice could have been issued. The ombudsman does not, however, consider that the complainants suffered an injustice as a consequence, since nothing from the council had indicated a bond was in place. She considered that the search enquiries ought to have alerted the complainants.

The ombudsman finds maladministration but no injustice on this part of the complaint.

On the other part of the complaint, the ombudsman finds no delay by the council in taking enforcement action when planning conditions were breached. She therefore finds no maladministration by the council.

Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead (98/B/3786)

Publicity for planning applications

The council granted planning permission for a replacement dwelling next to the home of Mr Smith (not his real name for legal reasons). He complained that the council had not notified him of any of the planning applications for the development. He considered that had he been notified he would have had the opportunity to object and that the development would not have been approved in its present form. The ombudsman considers that there were shortcomings in the publicity given to the applications but he does not consider that, had Mr Smith been notified by the council and objected, this would have made any difference to the determination of the application. The ombudsman finds maladministration by the council, but no resulting injustice to Mr Smith.

Further reports

(first report found maladministration and injustice)

Rossendale BC (98/C/2319)

Leisure & recreation

Mrs Emerson (not her real name) said that an officer of the council provided wrong advice about the standard of rewiring required to a private members social club in order to obtain a public entertainment licence. To obtain the licence Mrs Emerson was obliged to proceed with her purchase of the property. Having done so the concil specified further works to obtain the licence which Mrs Emerson could not afford and did not undertake. The club proved not to be profitable and Mrs Emerson sold the business at a significant loss.

The obudsman found that incorrect advice had been given to Mrs Emerson. Had she been properly advised she could then have decided whether or not to purchase the property. To remedy the injustice the obudsman recommended that the cuncil pay Mrs Emerson£1,000 plus what it would cost to provide the correct electrical installation. These electrical installation costs were estimated at£10,000.

The cuncil accepted the finding of maladministration and agreed to pay Mrs Emerson£500. The ombudsman is not satisfied that this adequately compensates Mrs Emerson for the injustice arising from the council's maladministration, and therefore issues her second report. She considers that the council should pay Mrs Emerson£10,500 in addition to the£500 it has already agreed to pay.

Eden DC (97/C/0742-0743)

Planning enforcement & environmental health

Mr & Mrs Foster and Mr & Mrs Wallace (not their real names), whose properties abut an old foundry site, complained that the council had failed over a number of years to investigate the planning history and to regulate the site usage effectively. They also complained that two councillors had submitted misleading information to the council about the site history, and that one councillor had failed to declare an interest and withdraw from meetings when items concerning the site were discussed.

The ombudsman concluded that the council had failed to log and investigate all calls of complaint about nuisance, and that it appeared that the council still fails from time to time to let complainants know the outcome of investigations into such complaints. She also concluded that the council, in granting a Certificate of Lawful Use for car dismantling and scrap handling activities on the site in 1993, failed to discover and to take into account evidence in its own records that the site had become derelict during the qualifying ten year period. In consequence it had granted a certificate permitting processing of scrap cars, vehicle dismantling and storage, when this was not justified.

The ombudsman also concluded that the council had failed to take effective enforcement action in 1990 to control what was at that time an unauthorised scrapyard. The ombudsman recognised that the council was actively seeking a long-term solution to the problems posed by the site, but considered that it had allowed enforcement to drift because of its preoccupation with such a long-term solution.

The ombudsman did not find any evidence that councillors mentioned in the complaint had providing misleading information to the council about the site history, or that one of the councillors concerned had failed to declare an interest in the matter when appropriate.

The complainants claimed that they and their families had suffered from noise, smoke, loss of visual amenity, loss of value of their properties, and time, trouble and expense in pursuing their complaints. They claimed that their health had deteriorated. The ombudsman did not accept that the complainants' properties had been devalued as a result of maladministration by the council since, when they bought their houses, the site already had an established heavy industrial use. In recognition of the impact on them of the council's failure to regulate the site, the stress and depression they suffered, and their time and trouble in pursuing their complaints, coupled with their years of frustration because of the council's inadequate response to those complaints, the ombudsman recommended that the council pay each set of complainants£3,500.

The council did not accept the ombudsman's recommendation on the amount of compensation, instead it sent£500 to each couple. The ombudsman does not accept the council's reasons for this decision, and issues her second report, repeating her recommendation that the council should pay each couple£3,500 compensation.

Findings of no maladministration

Dudley MBC (99/B/0244)

Housing grants

Mr Singh (not his real name for legal reasons), on behalf of his wife, applied successfully for a disabled facilities grant to make her home suitable for her occupation as a disabled person. When work commenced he became concerned about the standard of workmanship and about certain extra works which the council permitted and which he considered to be unnecessary and/or overpriced. He expressed concern that the agreed schedule was not being followed, that some work had been completed to a specification other than that agreed, and that some items were not completed at all. He complained that the relationship between the council and the builders was too close. The council eventually referred Mr Singh's concerns to an independent arbitrator, but Mr Singh was not satisfied with the outcome of the arbitration and therefore complained to the ombudsman.

The ombudsman finds no maladministration by the council.

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