Privacy settings

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

London Borough of Lambeth (17 017 690)

Category : Environment and regulation > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 02 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint that the Council unreasonably issued a fixed penalty notice for littering. It is the courts’ role, not the Ombudsman’s, to decide if someone has committed a criminal offence. The complainant could have defended his case in a magistrates’ court if the Council had prosecuted him.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr B, complained the Council wrongly gave him a fixed penalty notice (FPN) for littering. Mr B said he did not commit the offence as he picked up the litter at the time and placed it in a bin. Mr B says the Council should cancel the FPN.

Back to top

The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if, for example, we believe another body is better placed to consider the complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered what Mr B said in his complaint and information he provided. I sent him a draft and discussed it with him before I made this decision.

Back to top

What I found

  1. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives the Council powers to issue a FPN for the offence of littering. The person given the FPN is then liable to pay a fixed penalty to avoid prosecution. If the fixed penalty is not paid, the Council may pursue a prosecution in a magistrates’ court.
  2. A Council officer issued a FPN after seeing Mr B drop a cigarette butt in the street. This made Mr B liable to prosecution for a criminal offence but he could pay a fixed penalty of £80 to avoid prosecution.
  3. Mr B denied the offence because he says he picked up the cigarette butt and placed it in a bin before the officer issued the FPN.
  4. The FPN set out clearly that there was no appeal right. It stated:

‘If you do not agree that you have committed the offence specified in the Notice then the matter will be dealt with through formal prosecution via the courts. It will then be up to the court to determine whether or not an offence was committed and therefore whether or not any penalty should be imposed. In this way, the formal court route is the only mechanism for raising an appeal.’

  1. Mr B complained to the Council about the FPN. In response the Council said it considered the officer had correctly issued the FPN because Mr B had dropped the cigarette butt, regardless of what he did afterwards. The Council offered Mr B the opportunity to pay a discounted amount of £50. The Council also warned Mr B it might prosecute him if he did not pay the fixed penalty. Mr B paid £50 on receipt of the Council’s email.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I appreciate Mr B is unhappy with the Council’s actions but I have decided we will not pursue his complaint about this issue. This is because it is not our role to decide if Mr B committed a criminal offence. That would have been for a court to consider if the Council had prosecuted him. Mr B chose to pay the fixed penalty to avoid prosecution. I consider he should have been aware that he should not have paid if he believed he had not committed the offence.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page