Damage to property or personal injury on highways

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman about damage to their property (eg their car) or an injury they have suffered when using the roads or pavements.

Examples of problems you may want to complain about

  • My vehicle was damaged by a pothole in a road which is maintained by the council. I want the council to pay for the repairs.
  • The council used tar spray when it was resurfacing the road where I live. People have walked the tar into my house and ruined my carpets. I think the council should pay for the damage.
  • My vehicle left the road because the council had not gritted the road when it was icy. This is the council’s fault.
  • My car has been damaged by a new speed hump installed by the council. The council should pay because the hump was obviously wrongly constructed.
  • I tripped on an uneven paving stone and broke my glasses.

How do I complain?

You should first complain to the council. It may decide to deal with your complaint through its complaints procedure, or it may refer your complaint to its insurers. But if the council does not resolve your concerns, it is unlikely that we will be able to help you.

What happens if the council refuses to compensate me for the damage or injury?

We will not normally investigate complaints about damage to property or injury to people arising from use of roads and pavements. This is because these complaints are really about whether the council has been negligent by not keeping a road in good condition. Negligence claims are generally best decided by a court. Only a court can decide whether:

  • the problem should have been dealt with by the council before it caused you harm;
  • there were any steps you should have taken to avoid the harm; and
  • the council is liable to pay “damages” for the loss or injury you have suffered.

Do I need help to take the council to court and, if so, how do I get help?

Not necessarily. The court procedures are designed to make it possible for people to take legal action themselves. You can find out how to do this on the Court Service website.

Also, you may be able to get free advice from a solicitor, a Citizens Advice Bureau or law centre.

Some insurance policies provide legal assistance and some trade unions and motoring organisations provide legal help for their members.

The council did consider my complaint but the investigation was badly handled. Surely the Ombudsman can investigate this?

Not normally. This is because at the heart of your complaint is the negligence issue and we cannot normally investigate the council’s complaint handling process unless we are also looking at what your complaint is about.

Are all roads the council's responsibility?

No. Motorways and trunk roads are the responsibility of  Highways England, outside London. (Roads in London are the responsibility of the council in which they sit with the exception of ‘red routes’ which are the responsibility of Transport for London.) Complaints about Highways England are dealt with by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Other sources of information

If you do not have access to the internet, please call us and an adviser will locate your nearest office for these services.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please call 0300 061 0614.

The Local Government Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

August 2016 

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