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Essex County Council (19 012 218)

Category : Environment and regulation > Trading standards

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 24 Dec 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr B’s complaint about the Council’s response to his reports an auction house is failing to accurately describe cars it sells. Further consideration of the complaint is unlikely to find fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr B, says the Council has failed to act on his reports that an auction house repeatedly mis-describes the condition of cars it is selling. Mr B says this causes financial loss to him and he wants the Council to contact and monitor the company and advise it to provide accurate descriptions of the cars it is selling.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
  2. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr B provided and the Council’s response to his complaint. I considered the Ombudsman’s decision on a previous complaint Mr B raised. I sent a draft decision to Mr B, discussed the complaint with him and considered the comments he made before I made my final decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr B buys cars from an auction house. He complains the auction house has described cars inaccurately, for example saying they have been stolen or in an accident when they have been flood damaged. Mr B also complains the auction house will not allow potential purchasers to start the engines of cars before they buy them.
  2. Mr B has raised his concerns with Trading Standards, which has said it will keep a record of complaints raised against the business but will not take any further action for now. The Council has told Mr B its priorities for Trading Standards investigations are matters where there is a public safety issue or there is large scale fraud.
  3. The Ombudsman considered a previous complaint from Mr B about the same matter but concerning different cars. The Ombudsman decided not to investigate that complaint. Any injustice of lost profit arising from mis-sold cars is due to the actions of the seller and or the auction house and is not one the Council or the Ombudsman can remedy. While Mr B wants the Council to investigate the firm’s business practices, the Council’s decision not to carry out an investigation does not in itself cause a significant personal injustice to Mr B.
  4. While Mr B disagrees with the Council’s decision not to investigate this matter further, the Ombudsman cannot criticise the Council unless there was fault with the way that decision was made. Further consideration of the complaint is unlikely to find fault because the Council has considered its priorities for conducting trading standards investigations and explained to Mr B why this case does not meet those priorities.
  5. The Council has also told Mr B it will not continue to respond to him on the same issues, although it will keep details of further incidents for future reference. There are no reasons for the Ombudsman to criticise the Council’s decision not to continue to correspond. It has twice considered Mr B’s complaints under its complaints procedure and explained why it is not taking any further action.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because further consideration of the complaint is unlikely to find fault by the Council.

Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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