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Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (17 007 346)

Category : Environment and regulation > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 29 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault by the Council in a complaint alleging it harassed the complainant over the alleged abandonment of his vehicle on private land.

The complaint

  1. Mr X says the Council harassed him over the alleged abandonment of his vehicle despite the vehicle being parked on private land.
  2. Mr X also complains about various matters involving his dealings with the Council including planning enforcement; environmental health; and highway matters. Mr X says he was unfairly persecuted by the Council in all these matters.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated Mr X’s concerns about the alleged abandonment of his vehicle. My reason for not investigating the other aspects of Mr X’s complaint is set out in the final section of this statement.

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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 investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, 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 examined the complaint and background information provided by Mr X and the Council. I discussed matters with Mr X by telephone. I sent a draft decision statement to Mr X and the Council. I considered the Council’s comments in reply.

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What I found

  1. The Council received a report of an abandoned vehicle on 5 May 2016. Its case notes show an officer visited the site and spoke with the person who made the report. The resident said the vehicle had been parked on the same spot for five weeks and was owned by Mr X. The resident said the vehicle was parked on his land although the land was a public right of way. The officer told the resident he would investigate the matter but warned him the vehicle had to be abandoned in terms of the law before the Council could act.
  2. The officer sought internal advice. He decided the vehicle had not been abandoned and the dispute was a civil matter between Mr X and the resident.
  3. The resident complained about the officer’s decision in June 2016. It was referred to his manager. The Council then sent an abandoned vehicle enquiry letter to the registered keeper of the vehicle which is Mr X.
  4. Mr X’s response stated the vehicle was not abandoned. He said the vehicle was outside his property on an unadopted road. It was taxed and any vehicle could be parked on the road if it did not block access. He said his own access had been blocked by other motorists and he had complained to the Police to no avail as the Police said they could not act on private roads.
  5. There is a note of telephone conversation between the team manager and Mr X in which the manager stated that based on Mr X’s statement that he used the vehicle weekly the Council did not regard the vehicle as abandoned.
  6. In November 2016, the Council received another complaint about the same vehicle from the same resident. An officer went to the site to investigate. Mr X saw the officer on site. He told the officer the vehicle was still in use. He referred to an ongoing dispute with the resident. The officer decided not to take any further action but referred the matter to the team manager.
  7. The team manager wrote to Mr X on the following day. He advised Mr X of another complaint about the vehicle. He said the road tax and test on the vehicle had expired in September 2016. It appeared to the Council that the vehicle had not been moved for some time. The manager said with these factors in mind the vehicle may be abandoned. He said it was unreasonable for Mr X to leave the vehicle in that location untaxed and without a test certificate. He asked Mr X about his intentions for the vehicle and for a time frame.
  8. Mr X sent an email to the Council in December 2016 saying he had removed the vehicle. A few days later, a local councillor contacted the Council to report the return of the vehicle. An officer visited the site and noted the vehicle was parked on a private road.
  9. The team manager visited the site in February 2017. He took photographs of the vehicle. He sent an email to Mr X. He said the vehicle had not been moved for at least five months. He asked Mr X to move the vehicle from its location as it was causing detriment to the area. He asked Mr X to remove it within seven days or bring it into regular use.
  10. The manager then sent a formal warning to Mr X by post in March.
  11. The manager met with Mr X at the site a few days later. Mr X told him the vehicle would be put back on the road subject to his finances.
  12. The resident complained again in April 2017. The Council advised him of the action it had taken to that point. It proposed a period to enable Mr X to act and told the resident to contact it again at the end of August if the vehicle remained in the same place.
  13. The resident contacted the Council at the end of August to say the vehicle had not been moved.
  14. The team manager referred the matter to a senior environmental health protection officer for the area. That officer wrote to Mr X about his intentions for the vehicle in September 2017. He advised Mr X the Council could issue a formal warning again as it had in March 2017.
  15. Mr X wrote to the officer saying the vehicle was not abandoned. He said the vehicle would be back on the road when he had the funds. He said there may be weeds growing around and beneath the vehicle but there are weeds around other areas in Doncaster. He referred to other disputes he had with the Council and stated the Council had not done anything about lorries and caravans parked elsewhere. He threatened legal action if the Council moved his vehicle.
  16. Mr X sent further emails to the officer in which he iterated his stance the vehicle had not been abandoned. He referred to the vehicle being registered to him as the keeper and said it had been legally declared off road. He said the vehicle was not burned out or had broken windows. He also asked the Council to clear the weeds on its land bordering his own.
  17. The Council decided not to take further action. It wrote to Mr X to advise him formally of its decision.

The Council’s duty

  1. Local authorities must remove abandoned vehicles from both land in the open air and roads including private roads. Local authorities must work out if vehicles are abandoned. This is likely if at least one of the following applies:
    • They have no keeper on the DVLA’s database and are untaxed.
    • They are stationary for a significant amount of time.
    • They are significantly damaged, run down or unroadworthy – with flat tyres, wheels removed or broken windows.
    • They are burned out.
    • They have number plates missing.
  2. Local authorities can legally enter land, at a reasonable time, to investigate and remove abandoned vehicles.

Finding

  1. I do not find the Council harassed Mr X or acted unreasonably in investigating the reports it received of an abandoned vehicle. The Council had a duty to investigate the reports it received. I note Mr X’s belief that the Council was unfairly persecuting him over this and other matters but I have seen no evidence to conclude the Council acted maliciously or with ill intent in its investigation of the reports of an abandoned vehicle.

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Final decision

  1. I closed this complaint because I did not find fault by the Council.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate Mr X’s complaint about his other dealings with the Council over various planning enforcement; environmental health and highway matters. This is because a complaint about those matters is out of time. Mr X complained in August 2017 to the Council but the complaint involved matters that occurred between 2010 and 2015.
  2. A complaint must be made to the Ombudsman within 12 months of the complainant’s awareness of the matter. Although Mr X complained to the Council in 2017 the clock was ticking from the time of his awareness of the various matters and not from the point at which he complained. I have seen nothing which would have prevented a complaint to the Council and the Ombudsman within time. I do not consider there are good grounds to investigate a complaint about these matters out of time.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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