Reigate & Banstead Borough Council (20 001 338)

Category : Environment and regulation > Licensing

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 17 Nov 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault in the way the Council decided not to take enforcement action when Mrs B reported that she was experiencing harassment from the owner of the park home where she lives.

The complaint

  1. Mr X is complaining on behalf of his mother, Mrs B, who lives in a park home. Mr X says the Council failed to take any enforcement action when Mrs B reported harassment from the site owner and his representatives.

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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. 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 have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
    • considered the documents the Council has provided; and
    • given the Council and Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

Relevant legislation and government guidance

  1. Residential park owners require a licence from the local authority to operate, which may include specific conditions. Where a local authority considers that a park owner is failing or has failed to comply with a site licence condition it can take enforcement action.
  2. Residents of park home sites are provided with protection against harassment. Harassment is defined as an action that interferes or is likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of the occupier, or the persistent withdrawal of services or facilities reasonably required for the occupation of a park home. These actions must be carried out with the knowledge that they are likely to cause the occupier to abandon the park home, remove it from the site, or to refrain from exercising any right.
  3. The local authority has the power to take action against a site owner. They have a duty to investigate any conduct which could result in harassment. Evidence may be collated in the form of diaries, photographs or statements and submitted to the local authority. They will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.
  4. The First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) deals with proceedings relating to park homes.

Key events

  1. Mrs B lives in a park home. For several years there has been a dispute over where the boundary lies between Mrs B’s pitch and the neighbouring pitch.
  2. Mrs B says the site owner told her that he had lost the pitch details and needed to mark the pitch up again. The site owner then asked Mrs B to sign a document agreeing to the position of the boundary. Mrs B did not agree because she considered it would reduce the size of her pitch.
  3. Mrs B wrote to the Council and said that she was being subjected to a harassment campaign from the owner and manager of the site. She said that they were coming onto her plot without permission and changing it in various ways to give sections of it to her neighbours. She also complained that the site owner was trying to pressure her into signing over the rights to her plot.
  4. The Council told Mrs B that it could not get involved in a boundary dispute with Mrs B’s neighbour, but that it could assist with matters of harassment. It asked Mrs B to provide a detailed log of all incidents over the next four to six weeks.
  5. Mrs B wrote to the Council again. She said that the site owner had failed to provide a detailed pitch plan with accurate measurements as required by law, was attempting to decrease the size of her plot and had threatened to block the sale of her home until she agreed to change the boundary. Mrs B also referred to an incident where she had been verbally abused and threatened by the site manager’s girlfriend six months earlier. She said she considered the actions constituted ongoing harassment and that the site owner was in breach of the Mobile Homes Act and therefore in breach of his licence with the Council. She asked the Council to take enforcement action against the site owner.
  6. The Council explained to Mrs B that it could take enforcement action in respect of breaches of the licence conditions. But that as it was not a condition of the licence to provide detailed plans, it could not enforce the provision of this information. It said that any breaches relating to the agreement between Mrs B and the site owner were separate to the licence issued by the Council and were a civil matter.
  7. Mrs B argued that the site owner’s actions constituted harassment which the Council had a duty to investigate.
  8. The Council then wrote to Mrs B explaining why it did not consider there was a case for harassment by the site owner. It referred to a letter Mrs B had provided to show that the site owner was threatening to block the sale of her home unless she agreed to change the boundary. The Council said that it did not consider the letter was aggressive or a ‘threat’ and it was not unreasonable for the site owner to propose the boundary dispute be resolved before the plot changed hands.
  9. The Council also referred to the incident involving the site manager’s girlfriend. The Council said that it was too late now to take action, but in any event it would not have done so because the incident had already been subject to police intervention and a Community Resolution Order had been issued.
  10. The Council asked Mrs B to provide further details of any other instances of harassing behaviour so that it could reach a view of whether an offence had been committed.
  11. The Council told Mrs B that it did not have jurisdiction to assist her with resolving the boundary dispute as this was a civil matter that she could bring before the Land Tribunal.

Analysis

  1. Councils can take enforcement action where they consider a site owner has failed to comply with a site licence condition. The Council does not consider there have been any breaches of the conditions and therefore it cannot take enforcement action.
  2. As explained in paragraph two, the Ombudsman will not criticise decisions which have been made without administrative fault. The Council has taken legal advice and it has followed the advice it has received. I have considered the site licence and conditions document and I have seen nothing to suggest fault in the way the Council reached its view that there has not been a breach of the site conditions.
  3. Councils have a duty to investigate harassment. The Council investigated Mrs B’s complaints of harassment by the site owner, specifically about the alleged attempts to reduce the size of her pitch, the alleged threats to block the sale of her home and the incident involving the site manager’s girlfriend. After taking legal advice, it decided there was not a case for harassment against the site owner and it explained its reasons to Mrs B. I have found no evidence of fault in the way it reached this decision.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and do not uphold the complaint. There was no fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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