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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 28 MAY

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Local Government Ombudsmen investigation reports issued since 28 May 1998 ...
Local Government Ombudsmen investigation reports issued since 28 May 1998

Findings of maladministration and injustice

North Somerset Council (96/B/3950, 97/B/0448, 96/B/3496 & 97/B/0448)

Planning: consideration/neighbour amenity

Four residents complained about the way the council approved a planning application for a major residential development at the rear of their houses which had been built more than a metre higher than the previous ground levels. As a result their homes are overlooked and their privacy reduced. The Ombudsman found that, in assessing the application, the council had wrongly assumed that the site was level. But it was not. The reference point used at one end of the site was inadequate to assess the height of houses at the other end. The Ombudsman found recommended the council to commission a valuation of the complainants' houses to establish if there had been a decrease in value because of the increased overlooking from the new development, and, if there had been a decrease, to pay the complainants the amount of that decrease. The council should also pay each complainant£100 for their time and trouble in pursuing their complaints.

the former South Herefordshire District Council (96/B/4814) and

the former Hereford & Worcester County Council (96/B/5047)

Highways

The complainant runs a shop in a principal street in an historic town popular with tourists. The street was closed when resurfacing work was undertaken. The complainant alleged that there was inadequate temporary vehicular and pedestrian access to his shop. The county council as highway authority failed to supervise the site properly, and there were times when the convenience and even safety of pedestrians was prejudiced. The Ombudsman found that this failure had caused the complainant avoidable frustration and disappointment, but there were too many uncertainties to suggest that this caused undue loss of trade above that which was inevitable. He recommended the successor council to pay the complainant£300 for the injustice and£200 for his time and trouble in complaining. Failures by the district council in communications over drainage works being done did not by themselves cause injustice.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council (97/C/2619)

Special educational needs and exclusions

A Special Educational Needs Tribunal found that a boy's special educational provision from ESS (Education Support Services) should be increased from 150 to 210 minutes per week, the extra time to be directed towards his behavioural problems. The council did not set a programme in place to address this need. When the boy was permanently excluded from school, the council failed to take steps to make the special educational needs provision specified. The Ombudsman recommended the council to draw up a programme to address the boy's behaviour problems and continue to address his literacy needs during the 150 minutes (ie the balance of the 210 minutes provision).

London Boroughof Ealing (96/A/3626)

Local taxation

The council delayed in recognising a man's entitlement to disabled persons' reduction in council tax liability, and took inappropriate action to recover council tax debts. When the complainant applied for council tax benefit the council delayed in telling him he did not qualify. The benefit office did not deal with enquiries from the council tax office. The complainant appealed against the refusal to pay council tax benefit, but the council did not deal with the appeal. It was not until 1997 that the man's entitlement to disabled person's reduction was recognised. The council had no system for distinguishing vulnerable debtors, such as disabled people, when engaging in debt recovery action. The Ombudsman recommended the council to pay the complainant£150 and waive all recovery costs. It should also send the Ombudsman a report on action taken to improve its arrangements.

Luton Borough Council (96/B/2324)

Council housing repairs

A woman council tenant complained to the council about her heating system. Such systems are prone to faults due to age, and the council's policy was to replace them when finances allowed. The complainant was concerned about the emission of carbon monoxide fumes. The council got British Gas to carry out tests in August 1996, but no records were kept of the tests carried out, and it failed to obtain a clear view in writing from British Gas that the system was safe. In May 1997 the system was again tested, and a representative from the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) was present. The HSE reported that the council should have arranged independent testing sooner. The Ombudsman found that, had an independent test been done earlier, it might not have reached the same conclusion as that conducted in 1997. There was no evidence that the complainant had to live longer with a defective appliance than she might have done. However, she was caused some additional avoidable anxiety. The Ombudsman recommended the council to pay her£250 and review its procedures.

Carrick District Council (97/B/3322-3324)

Planning enforcement & publicity for planning applications

Three people complained about shortcomings in the way the council addressed planning issues at a boat yard, which was in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and an area of great scientific value (AOGSV). A 1995 planning application described the development as shoring and posting of beach areas, but later it was clarified that a structure between 70 and 80 feet in length was to be constructed. The council did not make this later information available to the public. The council approved plans which were inadequate. This led to considerable anxiety for the complainants in their attempts to find out exactly what had been approved. Misleading information was given to a complainant and to an MP, giving false hope that the structure in the creek would be removed. Other allegations were not upheld. The Ombudsman recommended the council to continue to seek to establish the lawfulness of the development, keeping the complainants fully informed of proposals under consideration, and pay each of them£250 for the injustice, including their time and trouble in pursuing their complaints.

Liverpool City Council (96/C/4284)

Social services for adults

The council failed to deal properly with a woman's complaints about the quality of care afforded her adult autistic son at a day centre run by a charity. The council's powers over the centre are limited, as councils do not have the same duties of inspection that they have for residential care. The Ombudsman intends to raise this anomaly with the Secretary of State for Social Services. The council failed to respond adequately to the woman's complaints. An officer wrongly sent her a letter saying she had indicated she was satisfied, when that was not the case. There was no reason why her concern about the level of care for her son could not have been further investigated. She made it clear in a letter that the withdrawal of her complaint was made under pressure from a council officer. The council failed to pursue this or respond to this letter. The complaint was not advanced to the next stage in the complaint process. Had an independent person been appointed it might have been possible to identify the problems with the day centre and move towards resolving them. There was a failure to provide an adequate response to her second complaint. The Ombudsman recommended the council now to progress the woman's complaint by appointing an independent investigator, and to pay her£750. It should also review its complaints system.

Findings of maladministration but no injustice

London Borough of Waltham Forest (97/A/0522, 1179 & 1180)

Environmental health

Three residents complained that the council failed to take effective action to deal with their complaints about noise nuisance from a church in their road. They had suffered from excess noise on many occasions since March 1995. The council's response to complaints in May, June and July 1995 was inadequate: Officers did not telephone or visit to discuss the complaint; no visits were made to the church; and the complainant was not asked to complete diary sheets. A proper investigation did not begin until August 1995. A council EHO (environmental health officer) witnessed a statutory nuisance in August, but a report was not received by the EHO responsible until late September, and an abatement notice was not served. The minister of the church was not contacted to discuss the nuisance. Between then and 1997 there were further problems, abatement notices were issued, an injunction sought, and the church gave undertakings it would take certain actions to deal with the problems. In 1997 following further complaints, an EHO witnessed another statutory nuisance. The council's legal officer had told the EHO that if there were further breaches of the abatement notice, prosecution should be considered. However, the EHO did not consult the legal officer on this occasion. The Ombudsman was not persuaded that the council's delay in serving an abatement notice in 1995 or the omission to consider a prosecution in 1997 had materially affected the course of events. He considered on balance that, although the complainants had suffered deeply distressing problems, this was not in consequence of the council's maladministration.

Further report

(first report found maladministration and injustice)

Breckland District Council (95/B/5108)

Planning: consideration/neighbour amenity

The council acted unreasonably in granting planning permission for a forestry contractor's yard next to the complainants' home. An earlier application for the same permission had been refused. The council also failed to notify the complainants of a planning application for a permanent dwelling on the site. Members allowed irrelevant considerations to enter their deliberations. A number of them had been influenced by the previous history of the applicant's attempts to start a business. Some members had formed an incorrect view of the nature of the development. The Ombudsman said that those members who justified their decision in terms of policy had applied the wrong test and that members did not provide evidence that all the criteria for granting the permission against the development plan had been met. The Committee's decision was flawed and should not, therefore, have formed the basis of a grant of planning permission. The council agreed to pay the complainants£250 for their time and trouble in pursuing the complaint, and commissioned a 'before and after' valuation of their property. The District Valuer assessed the diminution in value of the complainants' home as a result of the planning permission as£10,000. The council resolved not to make the payment. The Ombudsman was not satisfied with this response, and therefore issued his further report.

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