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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN INVESTIGATION REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 3 APRIL 2003

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

Borough of Telford & Wrekin Council (02/B/4716)

Planning consideration/neighbour amenity

'Mr Ash' (not his real name for legal reasons) lives next door to a grade II listed building. He complained about the council's grant of planning permission for change of use of this building to a tearoom and shop. When the council granted permission for class A3 (food) use of the premises it failed to ensure a suitable condition was imposed requiring the provision of fume extraction or ventilation equipment to control cooking odours as recommended by environmental health. As a result, Mr Ash and his family have experienced greater impact from the use of the premises that they might otherwise have done.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the council should pay Mr Ash £500 and review liaison arrangements between its environmental health and planning departments to ensure that, as far as possible, the maladministration he has identified does not recur.

Plymouth City Council (01/B/14387)

Housing benefit

'Mr Oak' (not his real name for legal reasons) is a private tenant who was receiving housing benefit. When he was offered a council tenancy he was advised that his benefit payment would be suspended prior to the start of the new tenancy. Mr Oak gave his landlady notice that he would be leaving her property. He also wrote to her suggesting that, as he was short of money, she should retain his deposit in lieu of the last month's rent. His landlady did not reply and he took this as agreement with his proposal. Prior to leaving the property he redecorated and cleaned the carpets.

After Mr Oak had left, his landlady's partner contacted the council to ask about the suspended housing benefit because, he said, Mr Oak had left owing rent. Following a letter from Mr Oak's landlady stating that she had used his deposit in lieu of the rent he owed, the council wrote to Mr Oak advising t hat, five days after the date of the letter, a cheque for outstanding rent would be sent to his landlady.

Although Mr Oak disputed his landlady's account of events, the council failed to make enquiries to establish what, if any, rent was owing and failed to give Mr Oak proper notification of the determination and of his avenue of appeal against the decision. Although the benefit regulations give the council a discretionary power to pay housing benefit directly to the landlord where a tenant leaves owing rent, the council wrongly considers the power to be mandatory.

As a result of the council's decisions, Mr Oak was left short of money when he moved into a new home.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the council apologises formally to Mr Oak for the identified failures in handling his claim and pays him £500 in recognition of his anxiety, inconvenience, time and trouble in complaining to the council and to the ombudsman.

Bolsover DC(02/C/8118)

Neighbour nuisance

'Mrs King' (not her real name for legal reasons) was justifiably concerned with noise from parties at a neighbouring house. She complained to the council, which investigated the matter but failed to follow up with the necessary legal action. As a result, Mrs King had to put up with a problem for far longer than necessary.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the council should pay £350 to Mrs King, review its procedures, and ensure that it pursues any further required action vigorously.

Taunton Deane BC (01/B/18564 & 02/B/7706)

Planning enforcement

'Mr and Mrs Scott' and 'Mr Darwin' (not their real names for legal reasons) complained about planning issues connected with industrial development near their homes, and in particular the loss of amenity resulting from the felling of trees covered by a tree preservation order (TPO), and the failure to enforce planning conditions relating to landscaping.

The council granted planning permission, subject to conditions, for industrial development on land near the complainants' homes. Mr and Mrs Scott believe that committee members were not given all the relevant information and that the development has blighted their home. The developer felled more trees which had been protected by a TPO than the council's officer believed he had previously agreed. After some delay, the developer submitted new landscaping proposals and the council consulted neighbours. The council wanted the developer to reduce mounding on the site and provide a mix of tree sizes and types. The council's officer reached an agreement with the developer. The planning committee resolved to approve the landscaping details. The complainants were concerned about the delay in planting new trees. Planting of the site took place on 22 February 2002. The council has apologised to Mr Darwin for the loss of some boundary trees but does not consider that payment of compensation to the complainants is justified.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice on the issue of the felling of trees, and recommends that the council should pay £1,000 to Mr Darwin and £750 to Mr and Mrs Scott.

Local settlement report

Southwark LBC (02/B/2356 & 19 others)

Housing sales/leaseholds, council housing management other, and environmental health

Twelve leaseholders and eight council tenants of a tenants' and residents' association complain that the council failed to notify them of the presence of asbestos in their properties following a survey in 1997. They further complain that the council failed to notify contractors of the asbestos, who then installed cabling through the asbestos panels. They claim that these failures have led to them all experiencing a potential risk from exposure to asbestos fibres and the attendant worry.

The leaseholders also complain that the council failed to tell them of the asbestos when they purchased their properties either under the R ight to Buy Scheme or from other leaseholders and that it misled them as to the true cost of replacing the windows, which included removal of the asbestos. They claim this has led to some of the complainants purchasing properties which they otherwise would not have done and incurring much greater costs than they anticipated in respect of the window replacement.

All the residents also complain that the council removed the asbestos in an unreasonable way, which caused inconvenience, increased fuel costs and security risks for some months.

To remedy the injustice the ombudsman recommended the council to pay:

- £750 compensation each to nine complainants whose asbestos panels were disturbed after 1997

- £590 to one of those nine complainants, and £688 to another, for the cost of removing the asbestos in their properties

- £250 each to two of those nine complainants for their time and trouble in pursuing the complaints with the council and with the ombudsman

The council has accepted the ombudsman's recommendations.

The ombudsman does not find that the remaining 11 complainants suffered injustice from the council's maladministration.

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