The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss A says the Council delayed resolving a faulty alley gate lock. The Ombudsman has found some evidence of delay. He has upheld the complaint and completed the investigation because the Council agrees to pay Miss A redress.
- The complainant (whom I refer to as Miss A) says the Council delayed resolving a faulty alley gate (gate) lock/ key for a property she owns and rents out during 2020 to 2021.
- Miss A also refers to waste disposal issues.
What I have investigated
- I have looked at how events potentially caused an injustice to Miss A. She is not complaining on behalf of her tenants and so I am not looking at the issues about waste disposal difficulties caused by a lack of gate key. That primarily affected the tenants, and any significant injustice would also be to them not Miss A.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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 have spoken to Miss A. I considered the information she provided. I also asked the Council questions and examined its case file.
- I shared my draft decision with both parties.
What I found
- What happened
- Miss A owns a property which she rents out. She lives in a different city approximately 30 miles away.
- On 28 September Miss A contacted the Council asking for help to obtain a new gate key because her tenant said their copy did not work and she was aware the gate lock had been changed a few times and subject to vandalism. The Council passed her request to a Neighbourhood Development Officer (NDO) and a Community Protection Officer (CPO) for the Ward where her rental property was located. I understand Miss A spoke to a CPO and was dissatisfied with their response. Most of the contact between the two was verbal and there are no contemporaneous records to verify what was said. She then contacted the NDO who advised the tenants should go to the allocated contractor’s shop (the shop) which held the master keys and get a replacement key.
- Miss A continued to correspond with the Council and particularly the NDO in October. She complained the lock had been changed but the Council had not provided her with new keys. Miss A asked the Council to deliver the keys to her tenants and said the tenants should not be put to trouble of getting the keys. She also said the tenants would not have the required ID to collect a key. She had notified the Police about the constant vandalism to the lock. On 6 October the NDO apologised for stating the lock had been changed – this was in error as she had confused the site with a different nearby gate. She advised Miss A the tenants could go to the shop and get a new key. A CPO also visited the site that day and confirmed that other resident’s keys worked. The next day Miss A told the NDO her property agent had tried the existing key and it did not work. On 14 October the property agent obtained new keys from the shop and tested them the next day. They did not work. Miss A informed the Council. She formally complained on 16 October. The Council responded at the end of the month. It said the NDO had put a plan in place to resolve matters. She would ensure the lock was working, the shop had the correct master key and provide all residents with a key
- On 3 November Miss A asked the Council to change the gate lock because the keys did not work and the master key held by the contractor also did not work. On 16 November the Council authorised a replacement of the gate lock and new keys. Officers chased up the locksmith in November and December. The Council’s records show the new gate lock was fitted on 6 January 2021. Miss A says it was a month later. New keys have been provided to her tenants and the Council paid for the cost of the lock and keys.
- What should have happened
- Councillors in the Ward where Miss A’s property is located have allocated funding to pay for gate locks repairs to prevent waste disposal issues. If a resident cannot open the gate, they should report the fault lock/ key to the NDO. They will advise the resident to first check that neighbour’s keys are working. (If a resident feels unable to speak to their neighbours a CPO can visit the site to check if resident’s keys work). If the neighbour’s keys work, then it is assumed it is an issue with one faulty key. The Council will then advise the resident to attend to the contractor’s shop to purchase a new key. The shop holds master keys for the gates.
- If the keys of more than one resident do not work the Council will instruct a locksmith to replace the lock and issue new keys. The Council pays for this work.
- The master key held at the shop is only updated when the Council is notified a lock has been changed.
- Was there fault by the Council
- There is some fault by the Council.
- Miss A requested the Council change the lock at the start of November 2020. That work took much longer than usual to complete despite the Council chasing up the locksmith. There was a delay of at least a month. I cannot verify Miss A’s contention about the work not being complete until February 2021. It is clear that Miss A had to wait longer than was reasonable.
- In respect of the initial handling of the case I find that, overall, the Council acted in line with procedures. It remains unclear whether the lock was changed prior to 2021 or by whom. It was not work carried out by the Council. It had no reason to suspect the master key held by its contractor would not work. Officers correctly told Miss A to get her tenants to attend the shop and obtain a new key. Officers had not been contacted by any other residents using the same gate and had checked a neighbour’s key which worked. As such they were correct to advise Miss A to obtain a new key and assume the fault must rest with the individual set of keys. Miss A had her property agent follow that advice and still the new key did not work. Whilst that was deeply frustrating for Miss A it was not due to any fault by the Council. Once the Council was aware the new key still did not work the NDO undertook to get the lock working and ensure the correct master key was at the shop. Those actions coincided with Miss A’s request for a new lock. I do not see there was an unreasonable delay by the Council during this time. It provided reasonably prompt replies, particularly in light of the covid-19 lockdown, to Miss A and gave her the correct procedural advice.
- Did the fault cause an injustice
- Miss A had to wait longer than usual to have the gate lock changed and new keys provided. This caused her some time and trouble.
- Miss A asked the Council for £500 redress for her time and trouble, costs of getting keys cut and travelling costs to the property. In my view there are some costs and inconvenience that can be reasonably expected to be incurred as a landlord. Miss A’s petrol costs and time travelling to the property fall into that bracket and I see no basis to ask the Council to reimburse them.
- I consider it a reasonable remedy to the fault and injustice identified for the Council to pay Miss A £150 for her time and trouble pursuing the case. The Council has agreed to this redress.
- I have upheld the complaint and completed the investigation.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not looked at the waste disposal issues posed by lack of a gate key because any significant inconvenience would be to the tenant. They have not complained, and Miss A is not complaining on their behalf.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman