The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained the Council unfairly charged him the higher landlord licence fee for failing to register his property in time. The Council is not at fault for charging the higher landlord licence fee. During my investigation, the Council wrote to Mr X advising he no longer needed to pay the higher fee. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.
- Mr X complained the Council charged him the higher landlord licence fee for failing to register his property in time. Mr X states he was living abroad and was not aware of the licencing scheme. Mr X wants the Council to reduce the licencing fee to the original amount.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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 read Mr X’s statement of complaint and read the Council’s appeal response.
- Mr X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- The Council runs a landlord licencing scheme. A property that has been let since July 2016 and was not licensed before 30 September 2016, attracts a landlord licence fee of £770. This is because the property is unlicensed. A fee of £470 is payable by a new landlord who applies for a licence within 28 days of a tenancy starting.
- The Council has an appeals procedure for the property licencing scheme. It considers appeals where there are extenuating circumstances. The Council does not consider a landlord not knowing about the scheme an extenuating circumstance. It states, “absent landlords and agents with properties in the area must ensure that there are adequate communication methods and management arrangements in place when letting properties”.
- In August 2015, the Council sent letters to landlords telling them about the requirement to apply for a landlord licence by 30 September 2016. The Council sent the letter to Mr X’s rental property.
- In 2018, the Council wrote to Mr X at his overseas address and told him he had to pay an increased fee for his unlicensed property. Mr X appealed this decision. He stated he was living abroad and therefore was unaware of the scheme. He says his tenants did not forward the notification letter to him.
- On 30 July 2018, the Council wrote to Mr X. It did not uphold his appeal. The Council told Mr X he needed to register his property and pay the full licence fee of £770. The Council told him he could complain to the Ombudsman if he was unhappy with the response.
- On 7 August 2018, Mr X complained to the Ombudsman. He said he wanted the Council to reduce the licencing fee to the original amount.
- On 14 September 2018, the Council wrote to Mr X and told him that following a case in the High Court, the Council was reviewing the licencing fee. The Council stated it would not recover the higher fee. The Council told Mr X he would still be required to license his property.
- The High Court has decided the Council’s licencing arrangements require review. The Council is currently doing this and is not charging the higher rate.
- The Council is not at fault for charging Mr X the higher fee. It was Mr X’s responsibility to ensure the Council had an address where he was contactable. Even if the Council had been at fault, it is not charging Mr X the higher rate. This has remedied any injustice Mr X believes he was caused. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.
- The Council is not at fault for charging the higher landlord licence fee. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman