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St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council (18 016 376)

Category : Environment and regulation > Antisocial behaviour

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 29 Mar 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains about the Fixed Penalty Notice the Council issued to him for fly-tipping. The Ombudsman will not investigate the complaint because there is no evidence of fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to as Mr B, complains that the Council issued him with a Fixed Penalty Notice for fly-tipping when the deposit had not been fly-tipping but rather the short-term storage of materials to be disposed of when he had the opportunity.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
  2. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. In considering the complaint I spoke to Mr B’s representative and reviewed the information he and the Council provided.

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What I found

  1. As part of the Council’s strategy to keep its borough clean and free from unsightly waste, it introduced a team of Environmental Wardens who are charged with enforcing waste and littering legislation.
  2. In September 2018, accumulated waste in the rear entry behind Mr B’s address was brought to the attention of the Wardens who then visited the site 11 days later and interviewed Mr B. He confirmed the waste was his and he was issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice which required him to pay a fine of £400. Three weeks after the visit the waste had still not been moved.
  3. Believing the fine to have been unfairly issued because he had been intending to dispose of the waste when he had the opportunity to do so, Mr B appealed against the issuing of the Notice. The Council considered his appeal but did not change its decision and Mr B paid the fine.
  4. Mr B, with the assistance of his representative, complained to the Council about the fine and about how the Council had dealt with the matter. The Council addressed the complaint at the three stages of its complaints procedure but it was not upheld. The Council satisfied itself that the complaint had been considered in accordance with its complaints procedure and that Mr B’s concerns had been reasonably addressed by officers. It noted Mr B’s dissatisfaction with the lack of distinction between fly tipping and the short-term storage of waste awaiting disposal. However, it said it was clear the waste had been in the alleyway for a significant period of time and it was satisfied officers had taken appropriate action in dealing with the matter.

Assessment

  1. It is not the role of the Ombudsman to review the merits of decisions properly taken by local authorities. Having reviewed Mr B’s complaint, I have seen no evidence of fault in the way the Council dealt with matters. It issued Mr B with the Fixed Penalty Notice, reviewed its decision on appeal and addressed the concerns raised in Mr B’s complaint.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because there is no evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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