Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 10 Oct 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about a ramp the Council installed up to his neighbour’s front door. This is because the main issues complained of are outside our jurisdiction.
- The complainant, who I have called Mr X, complained about the way Brighton and Hove City Council installed a ramp up to his neighbour’s front door. He said:
- the Council failed to consult him about the ramp;
- it failed to get planning permission for it;
- it joined the ramp to the boundary wall and damaged it;
- it has not provided all the information he asked for under a Freedom of Information request; and
- its Planning Enforcement Team has failed to respond to his complaint about the matter.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- 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’. 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 further investigation will lead to a different outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We cannot investigate complaints about the provision or management of social housing by a council acting as a registered social housing provider. (Local Government Act 1974, paragraph 5A schedule 5, as amended)
- We cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a tribunal. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
- The Information Commissioner's Office considers complaints about freedom of information. Its decision notices may be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). So where we receive complaints about freedom of information, we normally consider it reasonable to expect the person to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mr X provided. I invited Mr X to comment on a draft of this decision.
What I found
- A council has no power to take planning enforcement action against itself.
- Mr X’s neighbour is a Council tenant. Mr X returned from holiday to find the Council had built a ramp from the street to his neighbour’s front door. The ramp is attached to Mr X’s wall and has damaged it.
- Mr X complained to the Council as it did not consult him about the ramp. He also complained to the Council’s Planning Enforcement Team as no planning application had been made for it. And he made a Freedom of Information request for documents showing how the Council reached its decision to install the ramp.
- The Council apologised to Mr X for not notifying him about the ramp. It said it did not need planning permission for it. And in response to Mr X’s Freedom of Information request, the Council provided a copy of its housing management procedures. But it refused to provide any other information as it said it was personal information. The Council’s Planning Enforcement Team did not respond to Mr X’s complaint.
- We will not to investigate this complaint.
- The Council is a social housing provider. Its Housing Management Department installed the ramp without planning permission or consultation, attached it to Mr X’s wall and allegedly damaged it. This part of Mr X’s complaint is, therefore, about the way the Council manages its social housing. So we have no jurisdiction to investigate it and cannot do so.
- Mr X also complained that the Council did not give him all the information he asked for under his Freedom of Information request. This is something the Information Commissioner’s Office can consider. I think it would be reasonable for Mr X to take this part of the complaint to the Information Commissioner.
- Finally, Mr X complained that the Planning Enforcement Team did not respond to his complaint. Although this is something we could investigate, we will not do so. This is because the Planning Enforcement Team has no power to take enforcement action against another Council department. So an investigation by us is unlikely to lead to a different outcome.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman