Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council (97/C/4137)
A street trader of long standing applied to the council to change his licence from the sale of fruit and vegetables to the sale of vegetarian products. He complained that the council imposed supplementary restrictions on his licence after it had given him permission to (a) commission a new stall and (b) install electricity so that he could begin trading in vegetarian food. He stated that, had the restrictions been imposed before permission had been given, he would have withdrawn his application to change his licence. He had however taken out a bank loan the repayment of which he had difficulty meeting because he was unable to trade as planned and he suffered serious financial problems. The ombudsman concluded that the council had taken irrelevant issues into account when imposing supplementary conditions on the complainant's street trading licence and had failed to consider other, relevant, facts. As a result the restrictions imposed were, at least in part, unreasonable and unclear. The ombudsman recommends that the council should pay the complainant the difference between the amount of the loan he took out and the amount he will have to pay back (ie the cost to the complainant of taking out the loan). In addition, the council should pay the complainant£5,000 for the stress and anxiety its actions have caused him. The council should also pay for an independent financial expert to assess the total abortive costs of the complainant's enterprise.
Social services for children
The complaint was made by a solicitor acting on behalf of a young person, 'Deborah' (not her real name), who has been in council care since 1994 when her parents moved away leaving her in an unsuitable family situation. The council prepared a care plan which identified long-term fostering as the appropriate option. The council had no suitable foster carer available when the care order was made, so Deborah was accommodated in a council-run children's unit. The council did not take sufficient steps to find her a suitable placement, with the result that she stayed at the unit from March 1995 to April 1996. During this period the unit closed temporarily for refurbishment: inadequate measures were taken to prepare Deborah for her interim care arrangements during this time. In May 1996 Deborah was placed in a promising foster placement which unfortunately broke down. She was then placed in another children's unit, where her behaviour began to deteriorate. After a period in this unit Deborah expressed a wish to live with her mother, whose domestic arrangements had changed and who now had a new home. The council reluctantly accepted that a return to the family home would now be acceptable. The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice, and recommended that the council should: offer to commission an assessment of any counselling or psychiatric help Deborah might need to help her recover from the difficult period of the events described in the report; pay the reasonable cost of any counselling recommended as a result of that assessment; pay her£2,000 in recognition of her distress and suffering; and review its arrangements for fostering children.
Tendring DC (97/B/3738)
'Mr Alder' (not his real name) was concerned about the development of an animal sanctuary on land adjacent to his property. He was told by the council that the development would be the subject of a section 106 agreement which would control activities at the site. It took the council from December 1992, when the application for planning permission was received, until August 1995 to negotiate and sign a section 106 and issue the planning permission. The council then had to negotiate with the owners of the site about the submission of details required in connection with the agreement. On 11 December 1997, when all the requirements of the section 106 had still not been met, the council wrote to Mr Alder apologising for the 'totally unsatisfactory' length of time taken to deal with the outstanding issues at the site. In March 1998 the council's legal officer concluded that the section 106 agreement was flawed and the council's power to take enforcement action was limited. The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice, and recommended that the council should: pay Mr Alder£500 towards the cost of screening the boundary and the plants destroyed by the animals; pay£250 for his time and trouble in pursuing the complaint; and take all reasonable steps to enforce the agreement it has entered into, assuming that is possible.
Cannock Chase DC (98/B/1650)
'Mr Star' (not his real name) is a co-director of a company which wished to improve a commercial site in its ownership. Following discussion with the council, the complainant was led to believe that the council would work up a scheme to redevelop the site as a community centre. This scheme would then be considered for Single Regeneration Budget funding by the Regeneration Board for the area. The responsibility for working up the scheme actually rested with the complainant. As a result of this misunderstanding there was a delay in progressing matters. The council failed to reply to the complainant's written request for information about the progress of the scheme. Ultimately the scheme did not go ahead and the site was not redeveloped. The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice, and recommended that the council should: pay the complainant£1,000 for its failure to keep proper records, convey decisions and respond to or act upon his enquiries about the potential scheme; and pay£250 for his time and trouble in bringing the complaint to the attention of the council and the ombudsman.
Liverpool City Council (98/C/0968 & 98/C/0858)
Land, environmental health & council housing repairs
'Mrs Edwards' and 'Ms Philips' (not their real names) complained that the council had failed to maintain vacant properties next to their homes. The ombudsman said 'Despite my previous investigations and recommendations the council has failed to introduce a system for ensuring that vacant properties are checked and cleared. This has resulted in residents having repeatedly to approach me to ensure that the work is done. This is maladministration which in this instance has resulted in injustice to Mrs Edwards and Ms Philips'. The council has now cleared the properties next to the complainant's homes and paid them compensation of£150 and£146. The ombudsman accepts that these complaints are resolved for the time being, but seeks confirmation from the council that an effective system for checking and carrying out clearance work will be devised and implemented within three months of the date of this report.
Findings of no maladministration
Barking & Dagenham LBC (97/A/1080)
Special educational needs and exclusions
'Mr Atherton' (not his real name) has a son, 'John'. John has attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and complex learning difficulties. He has a statement of special educational needs which specifies the provision he should receive. In October 1995, soon after the start of his penultimate year of primary education, John was permanently excluded from his junior school and was without a school place until January 1997. The council provided him with home tuition until February 1997 when he began a phased reintroduction to school. Mr Atherton complained that the council had failed to make the educational provision specified in John's statement before he was excluded from primary school; that the council delayed unreasonably in getting John back to school after he was excluded; and that the home tuition provided while John was out of school failed to meet his special needs. The ombudsman is in no doubt about John's unhappiness and loneliness and the opportunities that he missed while he was without a school place; his parents experienced acute distress and anxiety while their son was out of school. The ombudsman finds, however, that the council had no reason to believe that the specified provision was not being made before John's exclusion. He concludes that the home tuition was not provided unreasonably. The ombudsman also finds that the delay in finding a school place for John was not caused by maladministration by the council.