Maidstone Borough Council (15 008 587)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 15 Mar 2016

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: the Council was not at fault for the way in which it handled works in default at Mr C’s property.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr B, complained on behalf of Mr C. Mr B complained the Council, in carrying out works in default at Mr C’s property:
    • failed to follow its procedure by not obtaining three quotations for the work;
    • failed to tell Mr C how much the works would cost in advance;
    • charged an excessive amount; and
    • failed to provide a breakdown of the time taken to complete the works.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by fault. She can consider the way an authority makes its decisions, but it is not her role to comment on them unless they have been taken with fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and Mr B's comments;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • considered Mr B’s comments on my draft decision; and
    • gave the Council an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. On 19 May 2014 a neighbour complained about rats in the back garden of Mr C’s property. A Council officer visited on 30 May and identified an overgrown garden with signs of vermin. The officer left a card asking the Mr C to contact.
  2. On 16 June the Council wrote to Mr C to ask him to carry out baiting, remove vegetation and store waste in the bin. When Mr C did not carry out any works the Council issued a Prevention of Damage by Pest Act 1949 notice on 4 July to require Mr C to complete the works.
  3. On 8 August the Council wrote to Mr C to tell him it would be carrying out an inspection on 15 August. A Council officer visited on 15 August and left a card for Mr C.
  4. The Council wrote to Mr C on 8 October to tell him it had applied for a warrant. The Council asked Mr C to contact the Council before 20 October to prevent further action being taken.
  5. On 21 October the Magistrate’s Court granted the warrant.
  6. On 22 October Council contractors began work. I understand the work took two days to complete.
  7. On 27 January 2015 the Council sent Mr C an invoice for the costs plus an admin charge. The Council sent reminders on 18 February, 3 March, 5 June, 8 June, 28 September and 29 September.
  8. Mr B complained to the Council about the charges. The Council responded but did not change the charge.

Analysis

  1. Mr B says the Council should have obtained three quotes for the work before carrying out the works in default. Mr B says the Council only secured one quotation and therefore it did not follow its procedure. However, the Council’s procedure says that for works below £10,000 only one written quote is required. In this case the works totalled £2,069.10. I therefore cannot criticise the Council for seeking only one quotation.
  2. Mr B says the Council should have told Mr C how much the works would cost before carrying them out. Mr B says there is a significant difference between telling Mr C the Council would carry out the works and telling him if it did so the costs would exceed £2,000. I understand Mr B’s point. However, until the Council received the invoices it could not provide a figure to Mr C. Nor do I consider it would be helpful to do so because the cost could change. I am, however, satisfied when serving a notice on Mr C the Council made clear it would recover all costs which would include officer time, cost of works and an administration charge. That, in my view, should have put Mr C on notice that allowing the Council to carry out the works in default would cost him more than if he arranged for the works to be carried out himself. While that would not have made him aware the cost would exceed £2,000, the Council did not have any information at that point about the likely charge. I therefore do not consider the Council at fault.
  3. Mr B says the Council charged an excessive amount for the work. Mr B says the works took no more than a little over a day and yet the contractor charged a set price of £1,500. I understand Mr B’s concern. It may well be Mr C could have completed the works for a much lower figure. However, I am satisfied the Council gave Mr C adequate opportunity to make his own arrangements. Only when Mr C did not carry out the work did the Council appoint a contractor. As the amount the Council has charged is the amount it has been invoiced for by the contractor I have no grounds to criticise it.
  4. In reaching that view, I recognise there has been some confusion around the number of days required to complete the works. The Council initially said it took three days and then revised that to two. That may be why Mr B queries the charge. However, as I said in the previous paragraph, the contractor quoted £1,500 for the clearance of the garden. The contractor did not quote that amount based on a specific number of days or people required to complete the work. So, the fact there was confusion over the number of days required to complete the work does not mean the fee charged is excessive. The Council considers the fee reasonable given the amount of work required. It is not my role to comment on the merits of the Council’s view here.
  5. I understand Mr B is also concerned because he asked the Council to provide a breakdown of the number of hours worked and it has not done so. I am satisfied though the Council has explained how the costs are made up and the number of days required to complete the works. I am not sure what more information the Council could have provided given the job was a relatively simple one - garden clearance and treatment for vermin. The point, in any event, is the contractor provided a quotation for clearance of the garden. The Council inspected the works and is satisfied the contractor has completed the work for which the quotation was provided. I therefore cannot criticise the Council.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and found no fault by the Council.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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