Ealing Council wrongly destroyed a woman’s car that was in a car park outside her home.
The Ombudsman said that the power to deal with the nuisance of abandoned vehicles “must be used reasonably, and where vehicles are destroyed, councils should have transparent procedures for the inspection and valuation of vehicles, and retain robust evidence to justify the decisions they have taken.”
‘Mr Clark’ complained on behalf of his sister, ‘Ms Clark’ (not their real names for legal reasons), that the Council wrongly decided that her car was abandoned and, without notice to her, removed it from outside the property where she lived, and destroyed it.
The investigation found that the Council had no written policy on abandoned vehicles at the time of these events, and no formal training had been given to officers who inspected vehicles and decided whether they were abandoned and should be destroyed. They were not aware of the guidance on abandoned vehicles issued by the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Ms Clark parked her car in a car park outside her home, on communal land owned by the Council and managed by Ealing Homes. The Council’s ‘Envocrime Protection Service’ inspected cars in the park at the request of Ealing Homes. Although none of the criteria listed in the Defra guidance was visible during the inspection, the officer decided that Ms Clark’s car was abandoned. Had she sought details of the registered keeper from the DVLA, she would have found that the car was parked outside the owner’s home.
There was no formal guidance on the value below which a vehicle should be considered to be ‘of no value’ and therefore to be destroyed rather than removed and stored. Some officers thought the threshold was £1,000, others £1,500. The officers had no training in how to value a vehicle and did not use one of the widely-available guides to used-car prices in estimating its value. The officer decided the car was worth less than £1,500 and arranged for its destruction.
The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice to Ms Clark through the loss of her car, and recommended the Council to pay £1,200 compensation for the value of the car at the time it was removed, plus £300 for the time and trouble taken in pursuing the complaint.
In addition the Ombudsman recommended that, to avoid further incidents, the Council should develop a comprehensive policy on the removal of abandoned cars that balanced its obligations under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 with the rights of motorists to park their cars without fear that they would unreasonably be removed and destroyed. The policy should contain provisions that ensured that evidence the Council might rely on, if challenged about its decision that a vehicle had been abandoned, was robust and available for inspection.
LGO satisfied with Council's response: 4 September 2009