The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complains the Council has failed to take effective action against the owner of dangerous dogs. The Council is at fault because it delayed considering issuing a community protection warning. The Council is not at fault regarding its consideration of further enforcement. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mrs X, pay her £200 and issue guidance to staff.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, complains the Council has failed to take effective action against the owner of dangerous dogs.
- Mrs X says she has suffered distress, and she and other dog owners are intimidated by the aggressive dogs and cannot safely walk their own dogs when they are present.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated that part of Mrs X’s complaint about how the Council has investigated reports of dangerous dogs from February 2020. The final section of this statement contains my reasons for not investigating the rest of the complaint.
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)
- 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)
- 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 spoke to Mrs X about his complaint and considered documents she provided. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its response and the supporting documents it provided.
- Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
Legislation and guidance
- The anti-social behaviour crime and policing act 2014 provides for Community Protection Notices (CPNs) to be used to tackle anti-social behaviour.
- “Anti-social behaviour powers Statutory guidance for frontline professionals”, hereafter referred to as ‘The Guidance’, covers the powers that the police, local authorities and other local agencies can use to tackle anti-social behaviour.
- A CPN can be issued by a Council if they are satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that the conduct of an individual, business or organisation:
- is having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality;
- is persistent or continuing in nature; and
- is unreasonable.
- Mrs X made a report about aggressive dogs in April 2020. She chased this up in October 2020 and January 2021 to find out the outcome of the report.
- The Council received other reports involving the same dogs during this time.
- Mrs X made further reports of the same aggressive dogs in January 2021. The Council said there was insufficient evidence to take any action.
- Mrs X complained to the Council. The Council responded at stage one of its complaints process and did not uphold Mrs X’s complaint. It said it needed sufficient evidence to take action and that any subsequent reports would be investigated.
- Mrs X asked the Council to escalate her complaint to stage two. The Council explained the CPN process and the evidence it would need. The Council agreed there was sufficient evidence to issue a CPW against the owner of the dogs Mrs X had complained about.
- The Council received a further report involving the same dogs before it issued a CPW.
- The Council issued a CPW to the owner of the dogs Mrs X complained about.
- Mrs X provided information to the Council which she says shows the CPW has not been complied with and wants the Council to issue a CPN.
- The Council investigated an earlier report about the same dogs in November 2017. The Council spoke to the owner and obtained a voluntary agreement about one of the dogs. The Council recorded that if there were further incidents it would consider escalating the matter to require the dogs to wear a muzzle.
- The Council investigated the report by another complainant in April 2020. Mrs X emailed the Council to report this separately.
- Information provided by the Council shows that Mrs X’s email was not recorded as a complaint about this incident. Mrs X reported there were witnesses to a dog being attacked and badly injured.
- The Council recorded that the dog community appeared to be falling out with each other about the incident. There is no evidence to show the Council took account of Mrs X’s information about the incident as part of its investigation, made any attempt to identify and contact witnesses, considered the incident in 2017 or whether further action of any kind was required.
- A report about an attack by the same dogs was made by a different person in September 2020. There is no evidence any investigation was made in relation to this report or that the Council considered the previous reports about the same dogs and whether further action of any kind was required.
- The Council was aware of another incident in December 2020. No formal complaint was made by the owner of the dog involved.
- In its first complaint response, the Council told Mrs X that the owner of the dog involved in the April 2020 report had not provided a statement. Mrs X says this is not correct and a statement was provided by the owner to the dog warden.
- The Council records show the complainant was spoken to but do not record any further evidence being taken. There is no other evidence to show whether a statement was or was not provided at the time.
- The Council should have considered the 2017 incident and outcome when it investigated reports about aggressive dogs in April and September 2020. There is no evidence it did so. The Council did not properly investigate reports in April and September 2020. This is fault by the Council. Mrs X suffered distress and remains uncertain whether a CPW could have been issued to the owner of the dogs in 2020.
- The Council says that in order to take any further action it needs to have evidence about the behaviour of the dogs after the CPW was issued. This is correct.
- Mrs X has provided information to the Council which she says shows that the CPW has not been complied with. The Council confirmed to Mrs X in April 2021 that it had received no more complaints about the dogs. When I spoke to her, Mrs X also told me that there had been no further incidents since April 2021.
- It is clear the Council has received and considered information provided by Mrs X about technical breaches of the CPW. However, it is a professional merits decision of the Council as to whether this is sufficient to justify taking further action to issue a CPN. I understand Mrs X does not agree with the outcome, but there is no fault in the way the Council has made this decision.
Action taken by the Council
- The Council says staffing problems in March 2020 when it lost both members of staff in the dog warden service, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, will unfortunately have had an impact at times on service delivery. It says it has since established a team of six enforcement officers who undertake a wide range of activities including dog control. This team is currently funded until the end of 2023 when a review of the effectiveness of the service will be undertaken.
- To remedy the outstanding injustice caused by the fault I have identified, the Council has agreed to take the following action within 4 weeks of this decision:
- Apologise to Mrs X;
- Pay Mrs X £200 for avoidable distress;
- Issue guidance to staff that:
- all reports containing information about incidents must be formally recorded and considered during investigations; and
- all investigations about aggressive dogs should review and consider any previous incidents.
- I have found fault by the Council, which caused injustice to Mrs X. I have now completed my investigation.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated Mrs X’s complaints about how the Council investigated reports of dangerous dogs before February 2020, because this was too long ago and I do not see any good reason to investigate this now.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman