Durham County Council (18 000 904)

Category : Environment and regulation > Antisocial behaviour

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 08 Oct 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X says the Council is at fault in its handling of her reports of antisocial behaviour and its decision not to arrange an independent investigation of her concerns. The Ombudsman has found no evidence of fault by the Council in the matters he has investigated and for this reason he has ended his investigation of this complaint.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X says the Council has failed to act her on reports of antisocial behaviour (ASB) and refused to arrange for an independent investigation of her concerns. She says the Council’s inaction has made her reticent to report further incidents.

What I have investigated

  1. I have considered matters which have occurred in the last 12 months. I have not considered matters which occurred longer than 12 months ago and the later part of my statements explain my reasons for not doing so.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  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. As part of my investigation I discussed the complaint with Mrs X and considered information she provided. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its response and information it provided. I set out my initial thoughts on the complaint in a draft decision statement and I considered Mrs X’s comments in response.

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What I found

  1. Mrs X lives with her family. Her home is on an estate managed by a housing association (HA).
  2. In 2012 Mrs X reported an incident of ASB by her neighbour to her HA. I understand the HA notified the Council, the police and other agencies about the incident.
  3. Issues continued in the following years resulting in the following:
  • Diary sheets being completed by Mrs X in 2012 (the Council says it never received these);
  • Multi agency meetings being held in 2014 to discuss the ongoing situation;
  • CCTV being installed at Mrs X’s home in 2015 following a further report by her of ASB at that time; and
  • The CCTV being removed later that year as no incidents of ASB had been recorded.
  1. Mrs X complained to the Council in January 2016 about the removal of the CCTV cameras. The Council explained that it could not keep cameras in locations when no incidents were recorded. The Council provided Mrs X with the contact details of an officer she could contact should further incidents occur. It also reminded her of the importance of noting the details of any incidents and keeping a diary.
  2. Mrs X did not make any further reports of ASB to the Council so it closed her case. I understand that she continued to report matters to the police and that, as a result, two perpetrators were identified and a Community Protection Warning was issued to them in December 2016.
  3. Mrs X complained to the Council in 2017 and asked for an independent investigation to be carried out. I understand that as part of the Council’s consideration of Mrs X’s request, officers visited her home and discussed her concerns. I understand at the meeting Mrs X told officers that she had made some anonymous reports of ASB.
  4. The Council decided an independent investigation was not warranted because the previous consideration of her concerns had not identified any failings.
  5. Mrs X remains unhappy and says the Council’s inaction has made her reticent to report incidents and as a result she continues to experience ASB.

Analysis

  1. Mrs X complained to the Council about its actions in 2017. The Council considered her complaint and replied as it said it would. I do not find any fault with the Council’s actions up to this point.
  2. The complaint Mrs X made to the Council concerned matters which had occurred since 2014. The Council set out its view on these matters in a response which I consider addressed the substantive points raised by Mrs X.
  3. Mrs X was unhappy and requested an escalation of her complaint and for an independent investigation to be carried out. The Council visited Mrs X at home to discuss her concerns. I am satisfied the Council took appropriate action to understand and consider her concerns.
  4. The Council did not agree to carry out an independent investigation of her complaint. I do not find the Council at fault for its decision. An independent investigation would only be appropriate if the Council had identified failings in how it had responded to Mrs X’s concerns. No such failings were identified. As part of my investigation I asked the Council to provide background papers to Mrs X’s concerns and these demonstrate the Council has taken the action it referred to in its responses to her earlier complaints.
  5. Furthermore, the events Mrs X is concerned about occurred in 2014, 2015 and early 2016. I do not see that further investigation of these matters by the Council some 18 months or more after they occurred could yield any meaningful outcome. Additionally, Mrs X could have pursued these concerns with the Council at the time.
  6. For the above reasons, I do not find fault with the Council’s decision not to arrange for an independent investigation of Mrs X’s concerns.
  7. I understand that as part of the correspondence between Mrs X and the Council in 2017 she became aware that officers had referred to her as vulnerable. Mrs X is unhappy to have been described in such a way. I do not consider the Council to be at fault in this matter. It has clarified the term was used to describe how Mrs X appeared after visits by officers investigating her reports of ASB. Officers should record the impact of the alleged ASB on the person reporting the incidents as part of its handling of such matters.
  8. I also understand that officers apologised during their meeting with Mrs X in response to her view that she felt like a prisoner in her own home. Mrs X is of the view that the apology is indicative of fault by the Council. I do not agree for the reasons set out earlier in my statement.
  9. Lastly I understand that Mrs X feels reticent to report incidents of ASB to the Council. While I note that she has made some anonymous reports, the Council can only properly follow up named reports. I would therefore urge Mrs X to report incidents using the methods that offices have explained to her.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation of this complaint as I have not found any evidence of fault by the Council in the matters I have considered.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. Mrs X has raised a number of concerns about the Council’s handling of matters which occurred more than 12 months ago. These include her concerns that diary sheets she supplied were lost (which Mrs X said she learnt about this in 2015) and her concerns about the Council’s decision to remove CCTV from her home which also occurred in 2015. Mrs X made complaints to the Council about these matters in 2015 and 2016 but did not pursue them further. She also approached the Ombudsman at this time who explained to her that she must complete the Council’s complaints procedure before a matter can be investigated. I consider that Mrs X was aware of what action she needed to take and that it was open to her to escalate her complaints at the time. For this reason, I do not consider there are grounds to investigate these matters now.

Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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