Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 15 Oct 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman does not find fault with the Council’s handling of reports made to it about anti-social behaviour. However, there was fault in the delay during the Council’s complaints process, for which it has apologised.
- Ms X complains about the Council’s handling of reports made about the anti-social behaviour of a council tenant in temporary accommodation.
- Ms X is being represented by her boyfriend Dr A.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered all the documents and information provided by Ms X, reviewed relevant policies and guidance. I also sent Ms X and the Council a copy of my draft decision for their comments.
What I found
- The Council provides information for tenants within a tenant handbook. In this handbook, the Council sets out how they will deal with anti-social behaviour and the different options available for resolving reports of anti-social behaviour.
- The handbook notes the Council will recommend mediation in cases of neighbour disputes.
- The Council has other published guidance as to how they will deal with anti-social behaviour. The Council does not set out any strict procedures of how reports of anti-social behaviour should be dealt with. Reports of anti-social behaviour are dealt with on a case by case basis and the Council has discretion to decide how they wish to proceed.
- It is open to the Council to consider legal action against neighbours engaging in anti-social behaviour. This may mean an Anti-Social Behaviour injunction to prevent a person from causing further nuisance or by taking possession action if the offender is a council tenant.
- In August 2017 Ms K, a council tenant, moved into temporary accommodation. Ms X lived in the property above Ms K. Ms X made a complaint to the Council’s anti-social behaviour and hate incidents team about Ms K’s behaviour and the amount of noise she had been making.
- Between August and November 2017, the Council received numerous communications from both Ms X and Ms K containing allegations and counter allegations against each other. The Council provided the same advice to both parties, including asking them to report any noise complaints to the environmental health team.
- Ms X and Dr A sent the Council video footage of their interactions with Ms K. The Council considered the video evidence provided and noted it showed both sides arguing with each other.
- The Council made enquiries with the police to see what action, if any, was being taken against Ms K. The police confirmed incidents had been reported to them but there was no confirmation action was being taken against Ms K. The police also confirmed Ms K had made counter allegations against Ms X.
- The Council provided Ms X with updates on what the Council was doing and what action they had taken regarding the ongoing issues. It also explained that the threshold for enforcement action such as a civil injunction or eviction is high and the Council would need to clearly demonstrate to the court that it was acting appropriately. It also advised Ms X to seek independent legal advice should she wish to consider private action against Ms K. The Council also asked Ms X to inform it of any further incidents and the specific information it would require. It reiterated that it would need this information if it were to take enforcement action in the future.
- In September, the Council referred Ms X and Ms K for mediation service. However Ms X moved out of her property before this could occur.
- In October, the Council noted it did not consider it had enough evidence to support enforcement action against Ms K at that time.
- In November, Ms X advised the Council she was moving out of her property because of the issues she had experienced.
- Also in November, the Council sent Ms K a final warning regarding the issues. This explained that if any further reports of anti-social behaviour were received by the Council or Police then the Temporary Accommodation team would meet with the Council’s legal services to commence enforcement action.
- The Council noted in their response to Dr A’s complaint that it could not be established how the decision had been made to deal with the situation as a neighbour dispute rather than anti-social behaviour.
- The Council has said that no further complaints have been made about Ms K and so the case has since been closed.
- Ms X and Dr A have completed the Council’s complaints process. The council has explained that it aims to answer stage 1 complaints within 10 working days, and stage 2 complaints within 20 working days.
- The Council has said that the timescale was adhered to at stage 1 with the complaint received on 11 December and responded to the following day. The stage 2 complaint was then logged on 14 January 2018 and a holding letter was sent on 8 February, saying the Council would aim to respond by 16 February. The Council did not respond by this date. It sent a further holding letter on 8 March and then the stage 2 response on 21 March. The Council apologised for the delay in its response.
- There are policies and guidance which set out the Council’s commitment to dealing with anti-social behaviour. The Council’s tenant handbook sets out the different options available to the Council on how to deal with reports of anti-social behaviour. The Council has a duty to investigate repor
- The evidence suggests the Council dealt with the reports from Ms X primarily as a neighbour dispute as opposed to solely an anti-social behaviour issue against Ms K. The Council said it could not establish how the decision had been made to deal with the issues in this way. However, the Council has evidenced the considerations it made at the time. The Council has shown it considered reports and evidence provided by both Ms X and Ms K and decided the material showed a dispute between both parties. It may have been helpful for the Council to specifically record its decision making that it considered the issues as a neighbour dispute as opposed to anti-social behaviour at that time, however in the circumstances this does not amount to fault. The Council’s decision to consider the reports as a neighbour dispute does not seem unreasonable as at that time the Council had received reports from both parties and had considered video recordings which indicated both parties were contributing to the altercations. At this time, I do not find it was at fault in the way it initially considered the reports as a neighbour dispute.
- The Council later appear to have considered Ms K’s action’s as possible anti-social behaviour as it considered taking enforcement action against her. I do not consider that its change in position as evidence that there was fault in its initial decision as it has shown that each decision was based on the evidence available at that time.
- In considering the issues as a neighbour dispute, the Council offered mediation and regularly communicated with all parties. At this time, I have found no evidence of fault in the way it dealt with the reports made by each party.
- Ms X and Dr A complain that the Council did not take enforcement action against Ms K. The Council explained its position regarding taking enforcement action to Ms K, specifically outlining what it would need to evidence if it were to progress with such action. It is the Council’s decision whether to progress with enforcement action, it has evidenced its decision making at each stage and at this time I have not found fault in the way it made its decision not to pursue enforcement action. This is because it has shown that it was gathering evidence to support any future action it may wish to take. The Council has also shown its intention to pursue such action, but Ms K vacated her property before this was progressed. As I have found no fault in the way the decision was made, I cannot consider the decision itself.
- The Council delayed in responding to Dr A’s stage 2 complaint about how the Council dealt with the issues. It provided a date by which it said it would respond but it did not do so and did not provide Dr A with an update. In the circumstances, this is fault. The Council apologised to Dr A for this delay which was appropriate in the circumstances.
- While I appreciate this was a distressing time for Ms X and Dr A, currently I have found no evidence that the Council was at fault in the way it dealt with reports they made about Ms K. The Council engaged with both Ms X and Ms K and attempted to resolve the situation. The Council has shown its willingness to pursue enforcement action once it was satisfied it was proportionate to do so. I understand that Ms X and Dr A do not consider the Council acted quickly enough, however I have found no evidence the Council was at fault in its response to reports made by all parties.
- At this stage, the Ombudsman does not find fault with the Council’s handling of reports made to it about anti-social behaviour. However, there was fault in the delay during the Council’s complaints process, for which it has apologised.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman