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Lincolnshire County Council (18 013 900)

Category : Environment and regulation > Drainage

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 18 Apr 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council has failed to clear a set of drains near his home. He states that when it rains the blocked drains cause the pavements and the roads to flood, making them difficult to use. To rectify the situation, he wants the Council to clean the drains and clear them of all obstructions. The Ombudsman has found the Council was at fault as it did not properly address Mr X’s concerns about the blocked drains. This fault did not cause him any significant injustice but it may have resulted in a hazard on a pavement near his home. To remedy this injustice, the Council has agreed to clean the drains within the next two months then write to Mr X to confirm the work has been undertaken.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I shall refer to as Mr X, complains the Council has failed to clear a set of drains near his home. He states that when it rains the blocked drains cause the pavements and the roads to flood, making them difficult to use. To rectify the situation, he wants the Council to clean the drains and clear them of all obstructions.

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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. 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)
  3. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
    • Read Mr X’s complaint and the documents he submitted in support of it.
    • Considered the Council’s comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided.
    • Provided both parties with an opportunity to comment on the draft decision.

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What I found

  1. At the beginning of August 2018, Mr X rang the Council to complain the drains near his home, or gullies as they are also known, were full of soil. He asked that they be cleaned as soon as possible.
  2. In the middle of the month, the Council wrote to Mr X and responded to his complaint. It said its policy was to clean the drains annually as part of its routine maintenance programme and its budget would not allow more frequent cleaning, unless there was an “imminent threat to property or life”. It stated the drains on his road were scheduled to be cleaned in October 2018 and if this did not resolve his concerns, it would return to the area to investigate. In conclusion, it did not uphold his complaint.
  3. A few days later, Mr X called the Council and asked it to escalate his complaint, stating he felt his concerns had been ignored.
  4. Toward the end of September 2018, the Council responded to his complaint. It noted an officer had inspected the drains and most of them were fine, apart from one in a footway that was blocked. It highlighted that some of those on the road were cleaned a few days earlier “as a reactive measure”, adding it was able to do this because a vehicle became available at a time when no traffic calming measures were needed. It also stated the remaining drains would be cleaned as scheduled at the end of October.
  5. At the beginning of December 2018, Mr X rang the Council for an update. It informed him that cleaning had taken place in October as planned and no issues were found.
  6. Mr X then complained to the Ombudsman. In addition to the points already discussed, he says the water that flows onto the pavement makes it difficult for pedestrians to use it, especially in winter when the water freezes, adding this causes problems for his partner as she is partially-sighted. He also states the blocked drains create a foul, unpleasant smell.

Analysis

  1. I have reviewed the Council’s website and it states the drains will be cleaned annually, although it adds it may carry out additional cleaning in response to a report submitted by a member of the public. I have also reviewed its cleaning contract and note this states its contractor may be called out at any time for an emergency. When Mr X reported the blocked drains to the Council he gave no indication the situation constituted an emergency. Consequently, it decided the issue would be addressed when the drains were cleaned in October as part of its routine maintenance programme. Therefore, I cannot find it was at fault as it considered the matter and followed its own procedure before making this decision.
  2. When investigating Mr X’s escalated complaint, the Council inspected the drains and noted most of them were fine. It also undertook some cleaning when it was able to do so and informed Mr X the remaining drains would be cleaned in October. There is nothing wrong with this.
  3. However, it has confirmed that five of the drains located on Mr X’s road were not cleaned when the scheduled maintenance took place in October. The records I have seen indicate it did not tell him this when he rang at the beginning of December for an update. It also states that when dealing with his complaint it did not know the location of the blockages that he reported, only the name of the road affected. It could have confirmed this information with Mr X as it spoke to him on the phone several times to discuss his concerns, but did not do this. As a result, I have found it was at fault for not properly addressing Mr X’s concerns.
  4. This fault did not cause Mr X any significant injustice, although it appears one blocked drain he reported may have posed a hazard to him and other pedestrians when they used the pavement next to it. The Council has stated its contractor will clean the drains that were missed and those reported by Mr X within the next two months. Moreover, it states the contractor will check whether any additional work is needed when this cleaning is carried out. I welcome its decision to do this and have included it in a recommendation I have made in the section below. I have also recommended it writes to Mr X once the cleaning is complete. These recommendations, which the Council has agreed to carry out, should address the injustice he was caused and help mitigate the risk from any potential hazard.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to ensure the drains reported by Mr X and those not included in the maintenance work carried out in October 2018 are cleaned within the next two months.
  2. It has also agreed to write to Mr X once this cleaning has been carried out to confirm the work has been completed. In addition, its letter will state whether any problems were identified that require further work, and if so, briefly outline what this work will involve and when it will take place.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was at fault for not properly addressing Mr X’s concerns about a set of drains near his home.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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