London Borough of Newham (18 006 164)

Category : Housing > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 19 Oct 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains the Council failed to meet her special requirements at a meeting, resulting in her becoming unwell and needing to go to hospital. She also says the Council failed to adequately investigate the matter. I have decided to discontinue my investigation. The Ombudsman cannot decide if the Council is legally liable to compensate Ms X; only the courts can.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains the Council failed to meet her special requirements at a meeting, resulting in her becoming unwell and needing to go to hospital. She also says the Council failed to adequately investigate the matter.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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:
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • the issues could reasonably be, or have been, raised within a court of law.

(Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Ms X’s written complaint and the Council’s response.
  2. Ms X and the Council have had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Ms X visited the Council to meet with a housing officer in February 2018. Ms X was on crutches and said she could not use the seating provided. Shortly after the meeting Ms X became unwell and an ambulance was called.
  2. Ms X complained to the Council. She said the Council had failed to accommodate her special requirements. The Council carried out an investigation. It apologised to Ms X and said it had addressed the matter with the officer in question.
  3. Ms X remained unhappy and complained to the Ombudsman. She said the Council had failed to adequately investigate the incident. She wanted an offer of accommodation, financial compensation and the Council to discipline the officer.

Analysis

  1. We will not normally investigate complaints about damage to property or injury to people. This is because these complaints are about whether the council has been negligent. Only a court can decide whether:
    • the problem should have been dealt with by the council before it caused Ms X harm;
    • there were any steps Ms X should have taken to avoid the harm; and
    • the council is liable to pay “damages” for the loss or injury Ms X has suffered.
  2. The Ombudsman cannot decide if the Council is legally liable to compensate Ms X; only the courts can. There is a procedure open to anyone to make a money claim in the courts. For these reasons, it is reasonable to expect Ms X to go to court for the compensation she seeks.
  3. As well as compensation, Ms X says she wants an offer of accommodation and for the Council to discipline the officer involved. The Ombudsman remedies injustice caused by fault. I have not investigated whether there was fault as I consider it is reasonable for Ms X to go to court. In any event, any fault by the Council cannot be said to have resulted in Ms X needing accommodation. The Ombudsman also cannot get involved with the Council’s internal personnel matters. The Ombudsman cannot achieve the outcome Ms X wants.
  4. Ms X says the Council has not adequately investigated her complaint. The heart of Ms X’s complaint is the negligence issue. We do not investigate the council’s complaint handling process unless we are also looking at what the complaint is about.

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Final decision

  1. I have decided to discontinue my investigation as a I consider the matter is best dealt with in court and we cannot achieve the outcome Ms X wants.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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