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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 11 DEC 1997

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Local Government Ombudsmen investigation reports issued since 11 December 1997 ...
Local Government Ombudsmen investigation reports issued since 11 December 1997

Findings of maladministration and injustice

Ribble Valley BC (96/C/3365)

Enforcement

The council failed to take action over unauthorised use of land by a gas bottling plant close to residents' homes. The council gave incorrect advice about the planning status of the site to residents, which reduced their faith in the council and caused them to employ a planning consultant to represent their interests. The council wrongly dealt with an application for hazardous substances consent as if it were an application for planning permission. Once the need for a certificate of lawfulness was identified, the council took prompt action, but the Ombudsman considered that, given the previous errors, it was reasonable for the complainants to employ a planning consultant, and that the council should pay her fees to remedy the injustice caused.

North Yorkshire CC (96/C/0904]

Highways

The council failed to deal properly with a man's request for a dropped kerb to assist vehicular access to his home. He applied at the same time to lay a track across the common land green outside his home. The council failed to separate the two issues. It should have dealt with the application for the dropped kerb on highways grounds alone. Instead, it refused on planning grounds. There was also a delay in dealing with the application, for which the council apologised and explained the reasons.

Hayes School Education Appeal Committee (Bromley) (97/A/0821)

Education admissions

A couple appealed against the decision to refuse a place for their son at the grant-maintained school. Their appeal was dismissed by the appeal committee. The Ombudsman found procedural faults in the way the appeal committee dealt with the appeal, including: failure to provide the parents with a statement of the reasons for refusing the application; briefing of the committee by the clerk when the parents were not present; failure to satisfy itself independently at what point prejudice would arise; inadequate understanding of its functions; and wrongly taking an irrelevant consideration (the number of applicants on the school's waiting list) into account when making its decision.

Salford City Council (96/C/1989)

Council housing repairs

The council delayed unreasonably in carrying out effective repairs to a family's heating system. As a result, the family was without hot water for almost one year.

Brent LBC (95/A/0953)

Council housing repairs

The council delayed in completing repairs to a woman's council home, for which it paid£750 compensation to the complainant. In addition it failed to ensure that the chimney was cleared when it installed a new gas fire, which the Ombudsman found could have exposed the complainant and her children to a serious risk. There was delay in dealing with the woman's claim for compensation for damaged possessions, and a poor response to her complaints to the council. The Ombudsman did not uphold an allegation that the council had broken a promise to install central heating.

Liverpool City Council (96/C/4521)

Council housing management

The council failed to take sufficient steps to investigate a woman council tenant's claim of harassment. Although the need for further information was recognised, a decision was taken to dismiss her claims and an officer's recommendation that she should be rehoused. This was maladministration causing injustice. The woman later made an unauthorised exchange of properties with the resident of another council property. The Ombudsman found no fault by the council in the way it dealt with this matter.

Harlow DC (95/B/0471)

Council housing repairs

The council has failed maintain a woman's council home in tenantable repair. The woman lived on an estate of properties with known problems. The council failed to investigate the woman's complaints of dampness properly for three years. Structural defects revealed in 1994 should have become apparent much earlier, and this would most likely have led to works being put in hand at an earlier stage or to the complainant being moved.

Findings of maladministration but no injustice

Winchester City Council (95/B/3820)

Planning: neighbour notification/consultation

A couple complained that the council's grant of planning permission for a development next to their home did not follower a proper appraisal of the proposals. One of the new buildings is four storeys high and its blank gable end faces their road. The site is at a higher level than the road there is a steep wooded bank between the site and the complainants' rear garden. The Ombudsman found that officers' report to committee had been inadequate in that it failed to mention the adopted local plan or any of its policies, gave inadequate guidance on the weight to be attached to comments and objections made by residents, and was unbalanced in that it lacked analysis of the impact of the gable ends of the four storey blocks on the amenity of residents. However, the Ombudsman concluded that even without the maladministration, the same planning permission would have been granted, and therefore no injustice arose.

Barnsley MBC(96/C/5002)

Planning

A couple complained about the way the council allowed a nearby cricket club to extend the hours available for drinking. Three councillors were honorary vice presidents of the club, and two were also members of the planning committee. They declared their interests and withdrew from the committee meeting which dealt with the application. The Ombudsman found that the councillors had no further involvement with the club beyond their 'honorary vice president' titles. In the particular circumstances, the Ombudsman did not consider that being a vice president constituted a 'clear and substantial' interest, but nor was it 'insignificant'. This meant that the interests were declarable, but that, once they had declared them, the councillors were free to participate in the decision. That they did not do so was not strictly necessary but indicative of their integrity. The third councillor, who attended the site visit, omitted to declare an interest. The Ombudsman found this to be maladministration but of a 'somewhat technical nature', and was satisfied that no adverse consequences flowed from it.

Findings of no maladministration

Plymouth City Council (96/B/2523 & 96/B/2526)

Council housing repairs.

Two couples complained that the council failed: to complete necessary repair works to their block of flats within a reasonable time; to offer alternative temporary housing to those tenants most affected by the works when the scale of them became apparent; and to consider a rent reduction or other compensation for those tenants who suffered substantial loss of amenity while the work was carried out. The Ombudsman found no fault by the council, and that its decision not to pay compensation was reasonable in the circumstances. The complaints were not upheld.

Local Government Ombudsman investigation reports issued since 18 December 1997

Findings of maladministration and injustice

Derbyshire CC (95/C/4840 & 96/C/0229)

Environmental health

Two residents complained that the council failed to respond properly to their repeated complaints of noxious nuisance from a local waste processing plant. The Ombudsman found a number of faults by the council in the way it dealt with matters pertaining to the plant including failure to respond to requests from Erewash BC, failure to write to the company running the plant about its failure to keep to conditions of its licence and failure to take action against breach of the licence conditions and against a statutory nuisance. The Ombudsman also criticised former Councillor J Murphy for this involvement in the Council's dealings with the plant company, saying the 'The evidence suggests that the company received more favourable treatment than other business'. In particular she criticised Cllr Murphy's failure to declare his interest and withdraw from two committee meetings in view of his connections with the plant company's management. The Ombudsman did not uphold similar complaints against Broxtowe BC and Erewash BC (see separate reports Erewash BC ref. nos. 95/C/4839 & 96/C/0230 and Broxtowe BC ref. no 95/C/4398 & 96/C/0228).

Ealing LBC (96/A/3310)

Housing benefit & council tax benefit

There were many delays and errors in the way the council dealt with a couple's housing benefit and council tax benefit claims and their rent account. The couple advised the council of their changes in circumstances when the husband became a full-time student and the wife's income support ceased, but the council failed to take appropriate action. The council's many errors led to the couple being left with large debts which they are struggling to pay our of a low income, worrying about losing their home, being distressed by visits from bailiffs, and in fear they would be sent to prison. They have not been considered for a transfer to larger accommodation following the birth of their second child because of the arrears on their rent account. They have incurred court and bailiffs' costs and been put to much avoidable time and trouble.

Haringey LBC (96/A/4562, 4575 & 4844)

Neighbour notification/consultation

The council granted planning permission for a double garage near the complainants' homes, which lay in a conservation area. The building of the garage involved the felling of a mature willow tree. The council asked for the plans to be amended so that the tree could be retained but council officers failed to recognise that the revised plan had not achieved this object before they granted planning permission for the garage.

Preston BC (96/C/2409)

Planning

The council failed to consider properly the retention of trees on a new development close to a woman's home. Its decision to approve the plan was made without due consideration of the relevant British Standard guidance and consequently to the probable effect on the trees.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council (94/C/4094 & 4709)

Social services

Two parents complained that the council delayed unreasonable in establishing a promised independent review into allegations of serious sexual abuse of children the council's care and sought to impose unreasonably restrictive conditions on the conduct of the investigation. The council had decided that it could not proceed with a review until the criminal proceedings had been concluded, and that the usual procedure for dealing with such complaints was not appropriate in the unusual circumstances. The ombudsman accepted this was reasonable. However, the council lost sight of the principle of investigating the complaints promptly. Some of the delay was not the council's fault, but the Ombudsman found the lack of planning and control had led to a delay of about a year in establishing the review and considered that it could probably have been concluded two years earlier. The Ombudsman did not support the allegation about the setting of restrictive conditions.

Bassetlaw DC (96/C03467)

Planning and housing grants

A man's shop was in a historic building. He applied for a repair grant through the 'Town Scheme', which is an arrangement under which English Heritage and the local authority agree to allocate annually sums of money for repair of buildings included in the scheme. The council let his application lie forgotten in a file for almost five years. There ware inadequate recording and monitoring systems at the start of the scheme, a copy of the application was not sent to English Heritage, and the complainant never received a decision letter.

Doncaster MBC (96/C/3345)

Highways and planning

The council failed to deal properly with a woman's request for a vehicular access to her home. After making sensible enquires, the complainant carried out the work to create an access to the rear of her home. She was given no cause to suspect any problem. Following complaints from other residents, the council arbitrarily and without clear reasons brought this to an end - a decision which flew in the face of all that had gone before. There was no effort to address the complainant's abortive costs. There was a delay and a lack of clarity in the council's actions. At one point the council was unable to advise the complainant's father that planning permission was needed, but told the parish council (wrongly) that it was.

Durham CC (97/A/0056

Planning

The council failed to honour its undertaking to pay fees incurred by the complaint in engaging a planning consultant.

Liverpool City Council (96/C0581)

Social Services

A couple's son had been the subject of special education needs statements while at school and was later diagnosed as schizophrenic. Following community care assessments there was periods when the son was left without care provision and family with practical support. The council failed to deal properly with their complaints against the social services department. It had also failed to assess their son for disability before he left school, but the Ombudsman found this had not caused injustice as she considered it most unlikely he would have be found to be 'disabled' at that time. The Ombudsman did not uphold a complaint about respite care arrangements.

Sutton LBC (95/A/3057)

Council housing management

A man complained about a serious of allegedly spiteful actions by council officers. The Ombudsman found a rent payment had been misposted, rent arrears disclosed to another tenant and the man's electricity disconnected. These failure was Maladministration and the second two failures caused injustice to the complainant. However, the Ombudsman did not support the allegation that the actions were deliberate, or were motivated by spite or formed part of a campaign against the complaint.

Hackney LBC (96/A/3072)

Council housing repairs and social services

In 1994 a couple was physical disabilities asked for central heating to be installed in their council home. The council failed to consider if the couple had a need which should be met either from the adaptations budget or through a DFG (disabled facilities grant). In 1996 the request was considered, but inadequately.

Sheffield City Council (96/C/0303)

Social Services

The council failed to provide adequate social worker support for young woman in the council's care and failed to respond properly to one of the complaints made under the statutory complaints procedure. Between April 1994 and February 1996 the woman had a key worker for only four out of 22 months, during which time she left school started and dropped out of college, started work and became an adult, while her mother had serious domestic problems. During this period there was a need for long term planning and reviews, which should have included plains for promoting contact with the young woman's family

North Yorkshire CC (96/C/3245)

Special Education needs

The council delayed in issuing an amended statement of special educational needs for a couple's daughter. As a result the parents were delayed by eight months in exercising their right of appeal. The council failed to keep them informed about the status of review meetings. The new pattern of education for their daughter could have been in place two terms earlier and the Ombudsman considered she had suffered educationally and socially from being at home for so long.

Findings of maladministration but no injustice

Liverpool City Council (96/C/1158 & 1282)

Council housing management & environmental health

Two people - a tenant complaining on behalf of herself and other residents on her estate and on a owner-occupied - alleged that the council having removed some asbestos panelling from their homes in the 1970's failed to advise them that there ware still asbestos panel in the construction of their homes, and failed to give proper advice about safety precautions necessary when undertaking DIY projects or maintenance work. The Ombudsman found that he council had not informed new tenants of asbestos in their prospective homes but as testing had shown that the asbestos was not a health hazard not injustice to the tenants arose. No maladministration was found in the way the council dealt generally with estate tenants in respect of repairs or minor DIY projects nor with the way the council dealt with those who had purchased their homes under the right to buy scheme.

Kensington & Chelsea LBC (95/A/4896)

Neighbour notification/Consultation

A man alleged that there was a fault in the council's handling of planning applications for development behind his home. The Ombudsman found that the council gave inadequate consideration to the complainant's objections on the ground of privacy. His letter of objection raised matters which were material to the planning application but were not included in the summary of objections reported to the planning services committee. However, it was unlikely that the decision to grant planning permission would have been different even without the maladministration. The council also failed to consult the complainant about the subsequent reserved matters application but the Ombudsman found that the differences between the two applications were not in fact so significant as to have obliged the council to consult the complaint, although it might well have been good practice to have done so.

Doncaster MBC (97/C/1233 & 1412)

Council housing management

Two people complained separately that the council wrongly assessed their levels of rent and then declined to refund what they saw as overpayment of rent. The council calculated rent for the tenants of its properties using a points scheme. It had made a mistake when notifying the complainants of the points totals for their homes. However, it had given clear advice to tenants on the new scheme and the Ombudsman considered it reasonable to expect the tenants to have spotted the obvious error. She found therefore that the claimed injustice had not arisen as a result of the council's maladministration.

Findings of no Maladministration

Erewash BC (95/C/4839 & 96/C/0230

Environmental health

Two residents complained that the council failed to respond properly to their repeated complaints of noxious nuisance from a local waste processing plant in the adjacent borough the Ombudsman did not uphold their complaints. Note: see reports related complaints against Erewash BC (95/C/4839 & 96/C/0230) and Derbyshire CC (95/C/4840 & 96/C/0229).

Discontinuation report (local settlement)

Hackney LBC (96/A/0637)

Miscellaneous

A man living in a council owned semi-sheltered flat for the elderly complained that the council failed to take action to ensure that the secured the benefit of a concessionary television licence. The Ombudsman did not criticise the council for failing to notify NTVLRO about the complainant in the short period (less than a month) between his 65th birthday in April 1988 and 19 May 1988 (the cut-off-date for new beneficiaries as determined by the NTVLRO). However, he hound some weakness in the council's part in the administration of the scheme. The council set up a compensatory scheme in 1990, and agreed to consider the complaint's case under this scheme. The Ombudsman considered this a satisfactory way to settle the complaint.

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