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Brighton & Hove City Council (21 000 522)

Category : Environment and regulation > Antisocial behaviour

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 14 Oct 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms C complained about the way the Council responded when she reported issues with her neighbour. She said the Council failed to take action to stop the problem. We did not find fault with the Council.

The complaint

  1. Ms C complained about the way the Council responded when she reported issues with her neighbour.
  2. She said the Council:
    • Failed to take any action to stop the issues.
    • Failed to respond to all her correspondence.
    • Ignored the evidence she provided.
    • Closed the case without a resolution.
  3. Ms C said the issues seriously affected their quality of life. She said they did not feel safe in their home and were frightened to use their garden. It caused them distress and affected their mental health.

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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 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)
  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 the information Ms C provided with her complaint. I made enquiries with the Council and considered its response with relevant law and guidance.
  2. Ms C and the Council had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I carefully considered all the comments I received before reaching a final decision.

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What I found

Law and guidance

Anti social behaviour (ASB)

  1. Section 2 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 defines Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) as:
    • conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person;
    • conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person’s occupation of residential premises; or
    • conduct capable of causing housing related nuisance or annoyance to any person.
  2. Ongoing ASB may need intervention by organisations such as councils, police, health and registered social landlords.

ASB council duties

  1. Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 places a general duty on councils to take action to combat ASB.
  2. Councils will have a team to respond to and investigate complaints about ASB, liaising with the police and other agencies as necessary.

Council ASB policy

  1. The Council has five teams that deal with ASB. The complex case team deal with cases that are complex or serious in nature.
  2. The Council uses a database to share information with members of the local community safety partnership, including the police.
  3. The Council offers mediation to residents who are in dispute with their neighbours. It says later action at court may be jeopardised if mediation has not first been tried or considered.

What happened

  1. What follows is a brief chronology of the case. It does not include all the information I reviewed during my investigation.
  2. Ms C lives with an elderly relative. Ms C said they have experienced issues with their neighbour since 2017.
  3. In 2019 the Council opened a case when there was a dispute between Ms C and her neighbour about a boundary issue. The Council offered advice to both parties and closed the case in November 2019.
  4. There was a further incident in December 2019. The Council visited Ms C and viewed the video of the incident. It gave her advice and the case remained closed.
  5. In August 2020 Ms C contacted the Council again to complain about the ongoing issues. She said the Council had failed to take any action and had not explained why it closed the case without any resolution.
  6. In its stage one response the Council said it would take action if it found sufficient evidence and would liaise with the police about the recent incidents Ms C reported.
  7. Ms C was unhappy and asked for her complaint to escalate to stage two. The Council provided its stage two response in March 2021. It said:
    • It apologised for making a phone call rather than sending an email or letter, as Ms C requested.
    • Explained the meaning of historic matters and the time limits for complaint issues to be considered.
    • Explained the Councils process for considering alleged tenancy breaches.
  8. Ms C was unhappy with the response and complained to the Ombudsman.
  9. Following Ms C’s complaint the case was allocated to an officer in the complex case team in October 2020 to monitor the situation for any further issues.
  10. Between November 2020 and March 2021 there were several incidents reported by both parties. There was regular contact between the Ms C, the council officer and Police.
  11. There were no further issues reported between March and May 2021. The Council closed the case in June 2021 and sent Ms C a case closure letter.

My findings

  1. My findings are presented under the headings of Ms C’s complaint.

The Council failed to take action to stop the issues.

  1. I did not find fault with the Council.
  2. The Council considered the reports and information Ms C and others provided. It evidenced its decision making and consideration of the available evidence. Where there was no fault in the way the officer reached their decision, we would not question the Officers professional judgement.
  3. The Council and Police offered Ms C advice on several occasions about how to avoid future conflict with her neighbour. The Council offered her mediation and conflict coaching but she did not take up these offers. The Council also issued written warnings after certain incidents.
  4. The Council worked with the Police. It gathered information to assist its decision making and responses following reported incidents. For example, when there were allegations of theft and assault the Council Officer sought information from the Police about available evidence and potential police action to inform its own consideration of these matters.

Failed to respond to her correspondence and reports

  1. I did not find fault with the Council.
  2. The Council provided evidence of its communication with Ms C for the period I investigated. It responded to her reports and complaints. There was some delay in its complaint handling, but this did not cause Ms C a significant injustice. The case was still open to the complex case team. Therefore, the Officer was corresponding with Ms C and she had a way of reporting any ongoing concerns directly to the allocated officer.
  3. Ms C asked the Council not to call her and to communicate by email. In October 2020 the complex case officer called Ms C to introduce themselves and explain their role. The Council acknowledged this should not have happened and apologised. This is a suitable response and I do not have anything further to add.

Ignored the evidence Ms C provided

  1. I did not find fault with the Council.
  2. The Council considered the evidence from Ms C. It also provided evidence of its communication with the Police about the incidents they investigated and their evaluation of the available evidence.
  3. Ms C may disagree with the Council’s assessment of the evidence but that does not mean it is wrong.
  4. I did not find any fault with the way the Council considered the evidence and information Ms C provided. The decision it made was professional judgement.

Closed the case without resolution

  1. I did not find fault with the Council.
  2. It closed the case in June 2021. There had been no reports or contact with the Officer since March 2021. In its case closure letter it explained the reason for closing the case and advised Ms C about the boundary issues.
  3. If Ms C experiences any further issues the Council said she should report these for it to consider. It also said if she disagreed with the case closure, she could discuss this with the Officer.

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Final decision

  1. I did not find fault with the Council.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate events from 2019. These matters are out of time and I found no reason to exercise discretion to go back and consider these issues.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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