Bath and North East Somerset Council (17 013 384)

Category : Environment and regulation > Antisocial behaviour

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 03 Dec 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council failed to take effective and timely action to deal with statutory nuisances and anti-social behaviour. It failed to provide information and support to the victim. Because of this the victim and her family had their quality of life and residential amenity ruined for 21 months longer than necessary. The Council has agreed a remedy to put this right.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I will call Ms X, complains the Council failed to deal with anti-social behaviour by her neighbour. She also complains the Council gave her and other residents no information and would not engage with them.
  2. Ms X says she and her family have endured stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. She says she gave up her job and retired early partly because of the impact on her ability to cope. She says her family could not relax in their home because of the smell and noise; including constantly sounding smoke alarms. She lived in fear of a fire in home. She says her neighbour’s actions caused rat infestations in her garden. She also worried about her neighbour as he looked ill and seemed at danger from injury from fire or a fall. She says while she was dealing with this her mother-in-law was ill and then passed away.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information from Ms X and the Council.
  2. Ms X says the problems from her neighbour started many years ago. I have decided to investigate events from 2015 onwards because Ms X was in constant contact with the Council since then.
  3. Ms X and the Council commented on a draft version on my decision. I considered their comments before I made a final decision.

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What I found

  1. The Council had a joint community safety plan 2009 to 2012 with the police, fire service, probation service and local social housing provider. The plan said the Council’s main priority was reducing anti-social behaviour and putting victims, witnesses and communities first. The plan said:

“Most people have an idea of what is an acceptable standard of behaviour, and if these standards are to be meaningful then infringements and breaches of these standards need to be challenged and dealt with. We will place particular emphasis on responding to recent increases in reports on anti-social behaviour and protect victims, witnesses and our communities, informing people of what actions have been taken and who has been caught and punished.”

It continued it would: “Further develop the work of the Council’s Anti-Social Behaviour Team. Increase successful anti-social behaviour applications at court. Ensure that victims and witnesses of anti-social behaviour benefit from more responsive support services and are kept informed of developments, applying Restorative Justice and mediation where appropriate.”

  1. Although the plan ran to 2012, the Council had not updated it and its website still had this as its plan through the course of the events of this complaint. The Council says it should have removed this from its website. The Council adopted a new plan in October 2018.
  2. Available on the internet is a document with the Council’s logo setting out its minimum service standards when dealing with anti-social behaviour. This said it would try to contact the victim in 24 hours but will contact the victim in 48 hours. It would tackle incidents of anti-social behaviour and tell the victim when it has. It would give a victim a single point of contact and keep the victim updated at a frequency and in a method chosen by the victim. It would coordinate with other agencies to tackle the problem and it will support victims and witnesses throughout the investigation.
  3. The Council says it was not aware of this document It says it will now review and update it.

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

  1. Section 2 of the Act defines anti-social behaviour as

(a) conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person

(b) conduct that can cause nuisance or annoyance to a person’s occupation of residential premises, or

(c) conduct that can cause housing related nuisance or annoyance to any person.

  1. The Act replaced the ASBO (introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) with six new powers:
  • civil injunction (a court ordered injunction for up to 12 months.)
  • criminal behaviour order (an order made after conviction for a criminal offence.)
  • Community Protection Notice.
  • Public Spaces Protection Order.
  • closure power.
  • dispersal power.
  1. Councils and the police can issue a Community Protection Notice (CPN) to prevent anti-social behaviour which has a harmful effect on the community's quality of life which they consider unreasonable. CPNs require the behaviour to stop and, where appropriate, require the perpetrator to take reasonable steps to not repeat the behaviour. Failure to comply is an offence and may result in a fine or a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN).
  2. Councils must issue a written warning in advance of the CPN. It is for the person issuing the written warning to decide how long is appropriate before serving a CPN. A person getting a CPN can appeal to the Magistrates' Court within 21 days.
  3. The Act introduced a community trigger. This allows a member of the community, who does not think the Council has done enough, to ask the Council to carry out a case review. Each area has a locally defined threshold for the trigger. In Avon and Somerset, the threshold is: -
  • the affected person must have reported three separate incidents about the same problem in the last six months and had an inadequate response of felt ignored. Or,
  • At least five people have made reports about the same problem in the last six months.
  1. The Council must tell the complainant the outcome of the case review and any recommendations from that review.
  2. Each relevant body in the area must publish information about the community trigger. Government Guidance says: -

“The relevant bodies should decide an appropriate method and format for publicising the procedure, taking account of the needs of the local community. The information should be provided on the websites of all the relevant bodies, signposting the public to the lead agency’s website, a point of contact and the procedures for activating the process.”

“Putting victims first: Keeping victims and communities updated on enforcement action at key points can help them to deal with the impact the behaviour is having. Victims may feel that their complaint has been ignored if they do not see changes to the behaviour. Letting victims know what is happening can make a big difference.”

  1. The Council’s web page on anti-social behaviour does not mention the community trigger. It gives the following information

“Anti-social behaviour is actions that lack consideration for others or harm their well-being, by causing harassment, alarm or distress.”

“If you are being affected by anti-social behaviour above and feel there is an immediate risk then you must call 999 straight away. If this is a continual issue and there is no immediate risk please call 101.”

“To find out more please visit the Avon and Somerset Police Website.”

  1. It provides a link to the Avon and Somerset Police website. The Police website gives full information about the community trigger.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990

  1. Under sections 79 and 80 of the Act, if someone complains about smoke from premises or noise that could be a nuisance, the Council should investigate and decide whether it is a statutory nuisance.
  2. If the Council identifies a statutory nuisance then it must serve an Abatement Notice on the person responsible. An Abatement Notice is not time-limited. Failure to comply with a notice can result in a fine of up to £5,000, with a further fine of up to £500 for each day on which the offence continues after conviction.
  3. The Council must, within reason, keep any public highway clean and free from refuse. It is responsible for investigating, clearing and taking appropriate enforcement action for smaller scale fly-tips on public land (including public roads and highways within its responsibility). The Council can serve a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) on the perpetrator.
  4. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 increased the penalties for fly-tipping set out in the Act. It is now a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £50,000 or 12 months imprisonment if convicted in a Magistrates' Court. Since 9 May 2016, under the Unauthorised Deposit of Waste (Fixed Penalties) Regulations 2016, a council can issue fixed penalty notices between £150 to £400 for small-scale fly-tipping offences. This is also a criminal penalty. Under Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 the Council can issue a notice to landowners requiring them to clear land or buildings if its “condition adversely affects the amenity of the area”. The Council can also enter land and clear it, and recover costs from the owner.
  5. Under section 46 of the Act the Council can serve notice on an occupier to require him to put waste in a bin for collection. If the occupier does not do this the Council can serve a FPN. If the occupier does not pay the Council can prosecute him in the Magistrates Court.
  6. At the time of these events for statutory nuisance the Council’s website said: “Due to limited resources we do not have a reactive service to allow us to come out straight away. If it is happening out of office hours then we would advise you to ring the next working day on 01225 XXXXX during office hours and speak to an Environmental Health Officer. If you prefer you can leave a message with the Out of Hours Service which is 01225 XXXXX. This is a message taking service only. Your message will be passed to an Environmental Officer the following working day and you can expect a call within 2 working days.”
  7. In mid-2018 the Council changed its website. It now gives the contact telephone number for office hours. It still says it does not offer a reactive out of hours service and people should either call the next day or leave a message.

The Public Health Act 1961

  1. If the Council finds a property filthy and prejudicial to health or verminous it must give notice to the owner or occupier to put this right. If the owner or occupier does not do this, the Council can do the work in default.

The Housing Act 2004

  1. Under this Act the Council can carry out a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) inspection. If it finds category 1 hazards it must take action, if it finds category 2 hazards it can take action.
  2. When a Council finds Category 1 hazards it must take the most appropriate of the following actions:-
  • make a prohibition order;
  • serve a hazard awareness notice;
  • take emergency remedial action or make an emergency prohibition order;
  • make a demolition order;
  • declare a clearance area.

Background

  1. Mr Z lived in a semi-detached house. It was his family home, owned by his mother and he had always lived there. Ms X lives in the attached semi-detached house. On the other side of Ms X’s house is a nursery.
  2. Since 2003 the Council received complaints about Mr Z and his family. Mr Z has a history of violence and fire setting.
  3. In July 2014 the Council served an Abatement Notice on Mr Z for fires in the garden causing a statutory nuisance from smoke. The notice said Mr X must not burn waste materials and stop the statutory nuisance from smoke.
  4. In 2015 Mr X, his sister and their elderly frail mother still lived in the property. The front and back gardens were extremely overgrown.

What happened

  1. In 2015 Ms X and other residents complained to the Council that Mr Z was starting fires in the garden again and leaving waste in his front garden and on the street. The residents said the waste attracted rats, seagulls and badgers which spread the waste further. In September 2015 the Council served a notice on Mr Z for littering.
  2. Ms X and other residents continued to report fires, waste thrown into the garden and street and vermin infestations. Ms X says Mrs Z’s carer told her she had seen rats in the house. In October 2015 Ms X told the Council about her concerns for Mrs Z, that she had seen rats in the garden and the house was filthy. She asked the Council for a coordinated response.
  3. The Council inspected the garden and ground floor of the house on 14 October 2015. It reported the property was untidy and unkempt, but said it was not dangerous and officers had not seen vermin. However, on 15 October the Police told the Council it had concerns about the inside of the house.
  4. On 29 October 2015 Ms X reported to the Council there had been a violent incident next door which resulted in a hospitalisation and an arrest. After this Mr Z’s sister left the house.
  5. In November the fire brigade visited Mr Z because he constantly set off the smoke alarms in the house. Its notes say Mr Z is “known for burning things”.
  6. Ms X and other residents continued contacting the Council with complaints about the property and Mr Z and concern for its occupants. The Council sent a joint response with the police which said a meeting with residents would not provide any benefit and might look like a “witch hunt”.
  7. On 11 November 2015 Ms X reported that Mr Z was burning “noxious” material in the garden; she sent photographs. The Council told Ms X and the police the photographs were not evidence of a statutory nuisance.
  8. In December 2015 the fire brigade attended another fire at the property. Its notes say: “poor housekeeping, stairs not in good order. This is a deteriorating situation, violent past and fire setting”.
  9. In January 2016 the Council asked residents to fill in fly-tipping report sheets. It said if they did it would serve a FPN on Mr Z. Residents did this. A cleansing officer saw Mr Z leave waste where it should not be and spoke to him.
  10. Ms X reported Mr Z banged on her walls with hammers. The Council installed noise monitoring equipment but Mr Z did not hammer on the wall while it was in place. The Council installed the equipment on a further occasion but did not record a noise nuisance. Ms X declined further offers to install the equipment. She felt it was not an effective way of picking up the noise Mr Z made. She also said because of Mr Z she rarely had a good night’s sleep and getting out of bed to turn on the recorder would reduce her sleep further.
  11. Ms X and others asked the Council to check the welfare of Mrs Z. Ms X said the smoke alarms in the house went off constantly, she had no idea if it was false alarm or if Mrs Z was in danger as she would not be able to get out of the house. Ms X says the fire brigade said she should leave her property if the smoke alarm sounded next door. Ms X and other residents continued to send the Council photographs of Mr X setting fires in the front garden.
  12. In March 2016 the Council served another notice on Mr Z for littering.
  13. In Spring 2016 the Court convicted Mr Z for the 2015 incident. The Court gave Mr Z a short prison sentence. It said the offence was serious because Mr Z carried out a sustained attack in a domestic setting on a vulnerable victim. It said Mr Z seriously injured the victim and had shown no remorse.
  14. Residents complained of constant littering; on occasions they cleared up the mess Mr Z left in the road. Throughout 2016 Ms X and other residents sent the Council reports and photographs of refuse Mr Z had left in the street.
  15. The Council replaced Mr Z’s refuse and recycling bins several times and gave him advice about using them. Mr Z did not follow the advice
  16. In June 2016 Ms X again reported the house was filthy and she could hear vermin in the party wall. In July the Council visited Mr Z. It reported it did not see any pests in the overgrown garden. It discussed with Mr Z fires he had set in the garden. The police told the Council it had attended two fires. The fire brigade told the Council it had been to one deliberate fire in December 2015 and two in July 2016. One resident told the Council Mr Z has set about 25 fires in the last four months and had 4 fire brigade visits when the fires got out of control. Other residents reported Mr Z setting fires most mornings. The Council did not take any action about the possible breach of the Abatement Notice.
  17. On 8 July 2016 the police told the Council Mr Z had set a fire at 4 am. It wanted the Council to serve Mr Z with a Community Protection Warning. Throughout July Mr Z set fires in the front garden. Ms X sent timed and dated photographs. Most of the photographs show smoke. One photograph shows Ms Z putting a recycling bin on a fire. Other photographs show Mr X by a fire in his garden and disability equipment in the garden. The next photographs show a police officer talking to Mr X and a fire engine attending. The final photograph shows the disability equipment in the road.
  18. Also on 8 July Ms X sent the Council a photograph of Mr Z with another fire in his garden later the same day. The photograph also shows a large pile of refuse placed on the road.
  19. On 8 August 2016 the Council sent a Community Protection Warning to Mr Z about the fires.
  20. In July 2016 Council officers witnessed Mr Z fly tipping and served him with a breach of notice letter.
  21. Residents continued to report Mr X fly tipping and some provided witness statements to the Council.
  22. In September 2016 residents asked for a meeting with officers and complained to their local councillor. The councillor asked for information. He reported to residents that no-one was coordinating responses at the Council. He said environmental services did not see Mr Z’s actions as malicious and so would not devote an officer to it. Residents should continue to make reports and the councillor provided four different contacts for the four different issues.
  23. In October 2016 a parent collecting a child from the nursery saw Mr Z walk into Ms X’s garden and leave a bag of refuse in it. She gave a written statement to Ms X and Ms X sent this to the Council.
  24. In October 2016 the fire brigade dealt with a car tyre fire set by Mr Z.
  25. In November Mrs Z moved into a care home.
  26. On 15 November 2016 the Council told Mr Z it intended so serve him with a FPN for littering. The Council served the FPN on 13 December.
  27. On 26 November 2016 Ms X reported Mr Z had smashed a toilet and blocked a drain leading to a flood in the street. She told the Council the utilities company found the drain blocked with cigars and cigar wrappers.
  28. On 6 January 2017 Ms X told the Council she had spoken to a friend of Mr Z’s who had been in the house. She said the friend reported pellets all over the floor that might be rot, cornicing hanging from ceilings and the house falling apart. Later in January a relative of Mr Z’s told the Council he had been in the house in November 2016 and seen vermin and blocked and broken toilets.
  29. On 18 January 2017 Ms X had a brief meeting in the street with Councillors and Council officers. Ms X says no officer took notes of the meeting. The Council says at this meeting it agreed to inspect Mr Z’s house.
  30. On 2 February 2017 the Council inspected the house. It did not do a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) inspection so there are no report or notes for this visit. The Council did not take photographs. There is a note on the Council’s running record which says the house was unkempt but not filthy. The inspecting officer had some concerns about the kitchen but did not specify what concerns he had. He said Mr Z had a functioning toilet on the second floor. (The house does not have a toilet on the second floor, it has a toilet on the first floor and in the basement. I assume the officer meant the first-floor toilet). He said he had seen no evidence of pests. The Council wrote to Ms X to say the house was not filthy or verminous and she needed to contact other people about refuse.
  31. In March 2017 Mrs Z died. She left the house jointly to her surviving children.
  32. Ms X and other residents continued to contact the Council to report rubbish including glass and pottery Mr Z smashed in the road and constantly sounding smoke alarms. The residents sent photographs and videos. Officials who had visited the house commented on how loud the television was.
  33. The Council says between July 2015 and July 2017 Ms X alone sent it over 200 emails about Mr Z.
  34. On 21 June 2017 Ms X made a complaint to the Council about its lack of action. She wanted the Council to inspect the house and serve whatever order had replaced an ASBO. She wanted it to keep her informed.
  35. On 3 July 2017 the Council discovered Mr Z’s family intended to take legal action to remove Mr Z from the house so they, as joint heirs, could get their inheritance.
  36. The Council decided it needed a multi-agency meeting. It also decided to have a single point of contact, a Community Safety Officer (CSO).
  37. On 4 July the police contacted the Council to say it was not happy the Council had not served a Community Protection Warning (CPW) on Mr Z for littering. On 10 July 2017 the police served a CPW on Mr Z for putting waste and broken glass in the road.
  38. On 11 July the Council held its first multi-agency meeting. At this first meeting the Environmental Protection Team said there was no role for it and closed the case.
  39. On 18 July 2017 the CSO responded to Ms X’s complaint. She said the Council had inspected the house on 2 February and had no grounds to take action under the Public Health Act. She said the toilet worked. She said Mr Z had been warned about the refuse and glass in the road. The CSO said she would arrange a residents meeting.
  40. On 22 July the fire brigade witnessed a burning smell in the house due to blown fuses.
  41. On 25 July the Council offered to meet residents at the Guildhall on 27 July. Emails show residents could not attend because of the short notice.
  42. On 27 July An Environmental Health Officer (EHO) gained access to the house with other agencies. The house had a strong odour. They found the first-floor toilet did not work but Mr Z used it. They found sewage from this trodden though the house and leaks from it into the ground floor.
  43. The EHO and officers from other agencies made further inspections of the house and took photographs. These show
  • The house was filthy and covered in rat droppings.
  • Dead rats including one in the basement toilet pan. Officers described one rat as “mummified”
  • Dangerous electrics and gas boiler.
  • Filthy, damaged and unusable toilets and bathroom.
  • Open drains.
  • Rubbish.
  • Flies.
  • A camping stove in a bedroom.
  • Structural damage.
  • A scorched smoke detector.
  1. The Council decided the house was filthy and verminous.
  2. The EHO discovered the basement toilet has a slight leak but worked. The EHO said the toilet was hard to access as it had no working light. There was no door or wash hand basin and the walls and floor were unfinished preventing cleaning.
  3. On 1 August 2017 the Council served two Public Health Notices on Mr Z for rats and lack of cleanliness. These required immediate attention. The Council started rat removal treatment on 8 August. The Council also took emergency action to make the electrics safe.
  4. 0n 3 August the EHO completed her HHSRS report. It has 23 pages and lists many category 1 hazards.
  5. On 9 August Mr Z started a fire in the property with carelessly disposed of smoking materials.
  6. Residents sent an increasing number of complaints as Mr Z’s behaviour intensified. Ms X continued to complain about Mr Z setting off the smoke alarm. Ms X and other residents complained about the constant smoke alarms, rubbish in the garden and glass and rubbish in the road.
  7. The Council arranged meals on wheels for Mr Z. Mr Z threw the meals, uneaten, into his front garden
  8. On the 18 August the Council served a CPW on Mr Z for deliberate sounding of smoke alarms. On the same day a senior EHO and a police officer visited Ms X. They told her about the two Public Health Notices and the CPW. They said if Mr Z did not do the work the Council would. Ms X says the officer said they would send her copies of the orders but later backtracked.
  9. On the 19 August 2017 the Council served a Suspended Prohibition Notice on Mr Z because of the condition of the house. This meant no-one else could live in the property; and, unless the property improved no-one else could live in it after Mr Z moved out.
  10. The Prohibition Notice listed all the problems with the house and why they were dangerous. The hazards that could affect neighbouring properties were structural movement, sanitation and fire. For fire risk the notice said:

“The electrical installation contains a number of defects as listed under Electrical Hazards above, which increases the likelihood of an electrical fire starting at the property.”

“Rats are present at the property. These are known to gnaw through wires, which will increase the likelihood of an electrical fire starting.”

“A fire will quickly spread through the property due to a number of issues. There are many items stored on the lower ground floor hallway, which will act as fuel for a fire and will increase the rate the fire spreads throughout the property. There is a fridge/freezer stored within the ground floor of the hallway which will also be a fire risk. The kitchen ceiling is in disrepair, so if a fire starts in this room it will quickly spread to the first floor. There is a large hole to the first floor front bedroom, which will allow smoke/fire to enter the means of escape if it starts in this room.”

  1. On 21 August Mr Z started a fire in the house.
  2. On 23 August the fire brigade organised clearing the overgrown front garden. Following this Mr Z took plants from Ms X’s garden. A witness sent the Council a statement about this. Ms X decided not to press charges.
  3. On 25 August the Council served a Community Protection Warning on Mr Z for putting food in his garden. The next day Mr Z threw bread and his meals on wheels delivery onto the garden. Residents sent the Council photographs of the food Mr Z continued to put in his garden.
  4. The Council arranged to fit a new toilet in Mr Z’s first-floor bathroom. It also arranged some emergency repairs. As Mr Z was about to lose his home it started to look for an alternative home for him. The EHO saw that Mr Z blocked the new toilet by putting cigars and cigar wrappers in it. She gave him advice about this. The Council also arranged for its street cleaning team to attend daily and clear up what Mr Z put in the road. The street cleaners did not take photographs of the waste before clearing it.
  5. The CSO wrote to residents and said the Council and others were taking action. She said the Council had to respect Mr Z’s privacy and so she could not tell other residents what was happening.
  6. Residents continued to send in reports, photographs and videos of broken glass in the road and food. The fire brigade regularly attended the house because of the smoke alarms and indoor fires. At a multi-agency meeting on 8 September 2017 the Council said it did not have enough evidence from residents and they were unwilling to give statements. The Council suggested the complaints about Mr Z hammering might be vexatious.
  7. In September the EHO asked Mr Z how the smoke detector got a burn mark on it. She said he was amused and she told him not to do it again.
  8. On 12 September 2017 the Council served a Community Protection Notice om Mr Z for putting food items on his property likely to encourage vermin. It told Mr Z he must clear all food from his front and rear gardens and not place any more food there.
  9. On 14 September 2017 a police officer emailed the Council and said Ms X would pursue the possibility of community help for Mr Z with local groups. He also said he had visited Mr X the day before and seen food thrown in the garden, including a meal in a tray. He said the meals on wheels deliverer then arrived and said the meal was the one he delivered the day before. The police officer sent the Council a photograph.
  10. On 29 September 2017 the Chief Executive emailed residents. He said the Council “will not engage in further correspondence about a particular individual as it would breach his privacy and confidentiality”. He urged residents to keep reporting incidents.
  11. Mr Z began to throw large amounts of raw meat into his garden, as well as the delivered, uneaten, meals. Residents sent reports and photographs to the Council. Mr Z also threw the raw meat into the garden of the nursery. A resident resolved the problem by finding the butcher Mr Z visited. The butcher said Mr Z came in often and asked for waste meat for his dog. Mr Z did not have a dog.
  12. The nursery and parents sent regular complaints to the Council. They complained about the daily broken glass and waste in the road. They said young children had to walk through this. A nursery employee reported a burst car tyre due to the glass.
  13. Residents reported Mr Z had started setting fires in the front garden again and sent evidence.
  14. On 3 November the nursery reported a fire with black smoke in Mr Z’s front garden. The Council visited and found the remains of smouldering electrical items. The Council served a CPN on Mr Z for setting fires. In its cover letter the Council said an officer had witnessed several food items in Mr Z’s front garden contrary to the notice it had served. The Council said did not intend to take action and told Mr Z not to do it again.
  15. A multi-agency meeting in November reported that despite many rat treatments the house still had rats but the toilets now worked. The Council found a new home for Mr Z and he moved to it in late November 2017.
  16. The Council required Mr Z to attend an interview under caution on 14 December 2017 as he had breached the CPN. Mr Z did not attend. The Council decided not to take any further action as it did not consider this was in the public interest.

The Council’s response to our enquiries

  1. The Council says it could not tell residents about all the action it was taking. It lists the actions it took but could not share. This included an assessment of Mr X’s needs and learning difficulty. The Council does not have a formal assessment for a learning disability. It says it was the view of professionals that Mr X might have a learning disability.
  2. The Council has sympathy for Mr Z. It says he is vulnerable, this was his life-long home and he had no support from family or neighbours. It says Mr Z was in grief from the loss of his mother. It says Mr X deserved to live in a supportive neighbourhood. It says, in the situation, it was difficult to see who was the victim.
  3. It says Ms X and other residents commented to it on Mr Z’s mental health and asked the Council for information. It provides extracts from six emails where residents comment on Mr Z’s mental health and ability to care for himself. It says in Ms X’s complaint of 21 June 2017 she said she would like Mr Z to leave the large house and move to where he could get support. She said Mr Z’s personal care and health were not good. It has provided an email from Ms X to a Councillor where she suggests Mr Z’s sister could have remained in the house if Mr Z had not assaulted her.
  4. The Council says using the recorder is an effective way of investigating noise nuisance. It says its machines have pre-record function to capture noise made just before the user presses the record button. It says Ms X always contacted it after the noise or nuisance had happened. It says if Ms X contacted it while things were happening it would have immediately visited.
  5. We asked the Council if it considered getting an injunction. The Council says it did not and would not do this unless everything else failed. It says the Ombudsman needs to specify the type of injunction we refer to. We were referring to the Council’s power to apply for an injunction under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
  6. It says it did consider asking Mr Z to enter an Acceptable Behaviour Contract but did not think Mr Z would understand this.
  7. It says Ms X did not use the community trigger but the Council itself carried out a case review by setting up the multi-agency meetings in July 2017.

Fault

  1. The Council failed to take reasonable action under the Environmental Protection Act to deal with Mr Z’s behaviour.
  2. It served an Abatement Notice to stop Mr Z setting fires in his garden in 2014. Despite clear evidence from residents, the police and the fire brigade that Mr Z continued to set fires in the garden the Council did not take any action for a breach of the Abatement Notice. The Council told residents that photographs were not evidence of a statutory notice but encouraged residents to keep sending them. The Council must witness the breach of the notice. It did not have a responsive service and did not visit. This prevented it talking action. This is fault.
  3. Instead of taking action against Mr Z for a breach of the Abatement Notice, it sent a Community Protection Warning in August 2016. This seems to have had an effect as Mr Z set few outdoor fires between August 2016 and October 2017. When the outdoor fires resumed the Council did visit and served a Community Protection Notice. Again, it did not take action for a breach of the Abatement Notice.
  4. The Council served Mr Z with notices to stop littering in September 2015 and March 2016. It served a breach of the notice in July 2016. When Mr Z stopped having outdoor fires he increased his littering in the street and added raw meat and other food to what he threw onto the street and garden. The Council served a FPN in December 2016. Mr Z did not pay the fine and continued to litter daily. The Council arranged for a team to regularly clear the glass and litter Mr X put on the road. It did not ask the team to take photographs or gather evidence. It allowed Mr Z to continue his littering with no penalty and cleared up after him. The failure to take effective action to prevent Mr Z from continuing to litter is fault.
  5. If the Council had investigated and used its powers it could have taken effective actions to stop Mr Z’s behaviour in 2015.
  6. The Council delayed in carrying out a HHSRS inspection. Officers visited the house in October 2015, July 2016 and February 2017. They report the house as unkempt but saw no cause for action. Without inspection reports I cannot know on what basis the officers reached this conclusion. In July 2017, when the EHO carried out a full HHSRS inspection, the house was full of category one hazards. While the house might have deteriorated between February and July 2017 it is difficult to believe that all the category one hazards appeared in these five months. It is particularly difficult to believe the electrics were safe in February but not in July. The house was in such a poor state the Council served a prohibition order. The house was a fire trap; which had obvious implications for Ms X’s home.
  7. The Council had an eyewitness report from a relative the toilets did not work and he had seen rats in the house in November 2016. In February 2017 the Council said the toilet worked and there was no evidence of vermin. In July 2017 the Council discovered the toilet did not work and was overflowing with sewage. It also discovered dead rats, included one that had had the chance to mummify. If the Council had carried out a thorough inspection before July 2017 it could have helped Mr Z earlier and possibly prevented further damage to the house.
  8. The Council failed to provide reasonable support to Ms X. It did not give her a single point of contact until July 2017. It did not respond to her reports. It did not tell her what it had done. It did not support her.
  9. The Council says it is hard to say who the victim was. It is not; it was Ms X, her family and other residents. The Council says Ms X questioned Mr Z’s mental health and commented on his ability to look after himself. Anybody witnessing Mr Z’s behaviour would question his motives. His behaviour was either deliberate and vindictive or was something he could not help because of a mental health problem. Ms X’s occasional comments about Mr Z’s appearance and ability to look after himself were statements of fact; the Council’s records say officers also had the same concerns. Ms X asked for help for Mr Z.
  10. There is not one example of Ms X or anyone else retaliating against Mr Z or being rude or abusive to him. Ms X and the other residents were powerless. They could not stop Mr Z setting fires; littering or make him deal with the deterioration of the house. They turned to the proper authorities to do this. They did not get any meaningful information from the Council and saw the situation worsen. Ms X spent a considerable amount of time providing evidence to the Council but it did little with this. The Council showed a reluctance to meet residents.
  11. The Council says it could not give Ms X personal information about Mr Z. I accept this but it could have told her about it was doing about Mr Z’s anti-social actions; Government guidance encourages this. Ms X was a resident asking for help and describing the effect of Mr Z’s actions on her. The Council did nothing to support her or respond to her concerns for her own safety and Mr Z’s welfare. The Council did the opposite and refused to discuss Mr Z and his actions with her. If the Council had any doubts about what it could share, it could have sought advice from the Information Commissioner.
  12. The Council says Ms X did not use the community trigger. The Council has no information about this on its website, contrary to Government guidance. The Council should have seen Ms X’s email of 21 June 2017 as a community trigger; as she complained of a lack of action. The Council says its multi-agency meetings from July 2017 acted as a case review. However, the Council did not tell Ms X the outcome of these meetings. Instead the Chief Executive wrote to her to say the Council would not communicate further about Mr Z.
  13. The Council did not use any of its powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, until July 2016 when the police asked it to send a CPW to Mr Z for fire setting. This is fault. In November 2017 the Council served a CPN on Mr Z for fires. As Mr Z then moved, the Council decided it should take no further action.
  14. The police asked the Council to serve Mr Z a CPW for littering and glass in the road in July 2017. The Council did not do this so the police did. As mentioned earlier the Council cleared up the mess Mr Z made without asking its workers to take photographs as evidence.
  15. On 25 August 2017 the Council served a CPW on Mr Z for putting food in his garden. The next day Mr Z threw food in his garden. He then intensified his behaviour by sourcing large amounts of raw meat and throwing this in his own garden and the nursery garden. The Council served a CPN in September 2017 but decided to take no action when it witnessed a breach of the notice.
  16. The Council never considered the use of an injunction to deal with Mr Z’s constant and escalating behaviour.
  17. Mr Z breached every warning and notice the Council served on him and did not pay the PFN. Because the Council failed to take any further action, Mr Z suffered no consequences. As a result, he continued and then escalated his behaviour.
  18. From July 2017 the Council adopted a multi-agency approach which worked well for Mr Z and found solutions for him. The Council showed great compassion for Mr Z. However, the Council was not even handed and offered no support and compassion for Ms X and the other victims.
  19. The Council says Mr Z was in grief because he had lost his mother. Mr Z’s behaviour long preceded the death of his mother. The Council never interviewed Ms X or any other complainant and so did not find out the effect Mr Z’s behaviour had on them. Mr X lost his mother, Ms X’s mother-in-law, while dealing with the behaviour of Mr Z. It is possible other residents had health issues or a bereavement to deal with, which Mr Z’s behaviour aggravated.
  20. The Council repeatedly says this was Mr Z’s life-time home. It had also been his sister’s life-time home. The complaints by Ms X and others did not lose Mr Z his home. Mr Z lost his home because he was not the sole beneficiary of his mother’s will.
  21. The Council unreasonably considered Ms X might be vexatious when reporting hammering by Mr Z. Ms X gave her reasons why she did not want to use the recorder. The Council says it has a pre-record function but I have seen no evidence it told Ms X this.
  22. The Council asked Ms X to keep providing reports. Most of her reports contain photographic evidence. Most of the things Ms X feared or reported were true. The house was infested with rats; it was a fire risk and the toilets were not functional. Ms X was right that Mr Z put cigars and wrappers down the toilet. Mr Z’s home caused problems for Ms X.
  23. The Council says Mr X reported incidents after they happened and it would have visited if she had reported them at the time. In the hundreds of documents I have seen, I have not seen this advice given to Ms X or any other resident. At the time the Council’s website said it did not have a reactive service. I have seen many emails from residents sent as an event happened. I have only seen only one immediate visit following such on email. This was in November 2017.
  24. The Council acted to eradicate rats. Mr Z began to put raw meat in his garden and so by November 2017 the house still had rats. Rats do not respect property borders. Rats in Mr Z’s house affected Ms X’s house. The smoke alarm in Mr Z’s house had a scorch mark. This is evidence Mr Z might have held a flame underneath it to set it off. The Council suspected this and told him not to do it. Mr Z constantly set off the smoke alarms causing great distress to Ms X.
  25. The Council should have used its powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act earlier. It should then have used them more effectively. It should have taken a multi-agency approach earlier. If it had done so it could have resolved matters sooner.
  26. The Council did not have an up-to date community safety strategy. It said it did know about the service standards on the internet in its name. The Council did not have a proper strategy for dealing with anti-social behaviour and its victim after 2012.
  27. The Council is at fault for its failure to have a proper policy and procedure for dealing with victims of anti-social behaviour. It is at fault for a failure to take effective action and its failure to provide information and support to Ms X.

Injustice

  1. Everyone should feel safe and at ease in their home. Mr Z’s behaviour prevented this for Ms X and her family. They endured the fear of fire in their home because of the conditions next door and the constant sounding of smoke alarms. They lost sleep. They had rats in the garden. They were confronted daily with smoke from fires in the garden and refuse strewn all over. These were the actions of Mr Z but the Council’s failure to deal effectively with the statutory nuisances and anti-social behaviour prolonged and even worsened the problems. Ms X says the stress involved was one reason she stopped working as she could not cope.
  2. The Council put Ms X to excessive time and trouble by asking her to send in reports; which it did little or nothing with. The Council caused Ms X extreme frustration and distress by failing to engage with her and provide information.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has already adopted a new community safety plan and says it will revise and update its service standards. To put matters right for Ms X within one month of my final decision the Council will also: -
  • Apologise to Ms X
  • Pay her £1,000 for the distress time and trouble it has caused her.
  • Pay her £5,250 for her loss of residential amenity from March 2016 to November 2017. (This is £250 a month, in line with our guidance on remedies).
  • Put information about the community trigger on its website.
  1. Within three months of my final decision the Council will: -
  • Provide the Ombudsman with an action plan of how the Council will improve its investigation and response to complaints of statutory nuisance and anti-social behaviour.

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Final decision

  1. The Council is at fault as it failed to take effective action to deal with statutory nuisances and anti-social behaviour. It also failed to provide information and support to Ms X. It caused injustice to Ms X. The Council has agreed to provide a remedy for the complaint, I have completed my investigation and closed the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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