Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 17 Oct 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council failed to deduct rent paid from the purchase price of a right to buy flat although the purchaser had served an operative notice of delay. The Council also failed to reply to a complaint. The Council accepts it made errors and will reimburse rent to the purchaser and reply to her complaint. It will also apologise to her and pay her £100 for her unnecessary time and trouble.
- Ms X complains the Council refused to deduct rent from the purchase price of a right to buy despite her serving an operative notice of delay.
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 considered Ms X’s complaint and discussed it with her. I asked the Council for information and considered what it said.
- Ms X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on a draft version of my decision before I made a final decision.
What I found
- When a tenant applies for the right to buy the leasehold of their flat, certain timescales apply. The Council has 4 weeks from receiving an initial application to say if it accepts the application. The Council then has twelve weeks to make an offer. If the applicant thinks the offer is too high, she can, within 12 weeks, ask the Council to get an independent value from the District Valuer.
- The Ombudsman cannot give an opinion on the value of a property.
- If the applicant thinks the Council is taking too long, she can send a notice of delay (RTB6). If the Council does not send a counter notice, the applicant can serve an operative notice of delay (RTB 8). Once the applicant does this the Council must treat the rent paid after the RTB 8 as an advance towards the purchase price. When the Council completes the sale, it must deduct from the purchase price all the rent treated as an advance payment.
- Ms X applied to buy her flat. On 9 November 2018 she served an RTB 6 on the Council. The Council did not acknowledge this or serve a counter notice. On 16 January 2019 Ms X served an RTB 8 on the Council. The Council completed the sale to Ms X on 12 March 2019.
- Ms X paid £170.74 a week rent. The Council should have deducted £1,317.14 from the purchase price (the 7 weeks, 5 days from 16 January to 11 March.) it did not do this.
- Ms X complained to the Council on 24 February 2019. She complained about the delays by the Council and the high price of the flat. She also complained she had paid rent during the delays. The Council forwarded the complaint to the Legal Department on 25 February but did not respond further.
- In response to us the Council says it made an error in not deducting rent paid after 16 January 2019 from the purchase price. It also accepts it did not respond to Ms X’s complaint. It says it will now ask all four services involved to reply to Ms X.
- The Council is at fault for not deducting rent from the purchase price and not replying to Ms X’s complaint. The Council accepts this and has proposed a remedy. The Ombudsman is pleased by the Council’s response. However, we consider the Council should also apologise to Ms X and make a token payment for her unnecessary time and trouble.
- To put matters right for Ms X within one month of my final decision the Council will:-
- Apologise to Ms X.
- Refund her the £1,317.14 she paid in rent from January to March 2019.
- Pay her £100 for her time and trouble.
- Reply to the complaint she made in February 2019.
- The Council is at fault and caused injustice to Ms X. The Council has agreed agree to my proposed remedy. I have completed my investigation and closed the complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman