London Borough of Islington (23 015 978)

Category : Environment and regulation > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 11 Mar 2024

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about a Fixed Penalty Norice for dropping litter. This is because the complainant could have raised a defence in court.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Ms X, disagrees with the Council’s decision to issue a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) for dropping litter.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start an investigation if we decide there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended, section 34(B))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by Ms X and the Council. This includes a copy of the FPN and the correspondence regarding Ms X’s challenge to the Council. I also considered our Assessment Code.

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My assessment

  1. The Council issued Ms X with a FPN for dropping litter. The FPN said Ms X could pay a fine as an alternative to prosecution. It also said she could make representations to the Council.
  2. Ms X contacted the Council. She accepted she had dropped litter but challenged the FPN. The points she made included that the Council had not correctly applied the law or guidance, there was a lack of bins, and many people drop litter. She also suggested the fine should be lower because she dropped a small item of litter.
  3. The Council considered but rejected Ms X’s challenge. It explained that dropping litter is an offence but she could avoid prosecution by paying a fine. Alternatively the Council said she could appeal in court. The Council extended the time for Ms X to pay the fine and gave her another chance to pay at the reduced rate. Ms X paid the fine.
  4. Ms X continues to dispute the fine. Amongst other points she says she did not know about the law, that there were discrepancies in the Council’s application of the law and fines should not be issued to raise revenue.
  5. I will not investigate this complaint because Ms X could have withheld payment, and then raised a defence in court, if she did not think she had committed an offence and thought the Council had incorrectly applied the law. The court would have decided if Ms X had committed an offence. It is reasonable to expect Ms X to have done this because the courts are the appropriate body to decide if someone has committed an offence or if a council has applied the law correctly. We do not act as an alternative to the courts and can only consider if the Council followed the correct process. In this case the Council acted correctly by considering Ms X’s challenge, explaining why it would not cancel the FPN and giving Ms X longer to pay. In addition, the Council’s enforcement policy confirms it will issue a FPN for littering and proceeds from fines are used for specific purposes such as education regarding littering and associated issues.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint because Ms X could have raised a defence in court.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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