Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 28 Feb 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the conduct of a Housing Enforcement Officer who inspected a house in multiple occupation owned by Mr Q’s organisation. Mr Q had the right of appeal to a Tribunal over the Improvement Notice he received.
- The complainant, who I have called Ms X has complained on behalf of Mr Q about the actions of Coventry City Council’s Housing Enforcement Officer, who inspected Mr Q’s house in multiple occupation. Among other things, Ms X said the Officer did not provide explanations and required more and more work after each visit.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- The law says 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)
- It is not a good use of public resources to investigate complaints about complaint procedures, if we are unable to deal with the substantive issue.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information provided by Ms X, including the Council’s final complaint response. I considered Ms X’s response to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- A person served with an Improvement Notice may appeal against the Notice to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). We normally consider it reasonable for someone to use their right of appeal.
- Mr Q’s organisation owns a house in multiple occupation (HMO).
- In February 2017 the Council’s Housing Enforcement Officer (HEO) made the first of several visits and inspections of the HMO. In March 2017 the HEO sent Mr Q a schedule of works required to bring the HMO up to an acceptable standard. In July, August, September, and November 2017, and again in January and March 2018 the HEO sent Mr Q revised schedules of works listing outstanding works. Throughout this period, the HEO warned Mr Q the Council could take enforcement action if he did not do the works listed in the schedules.
- In May 2018 the Council served Mr Q with an Improvement Notice. He did not appeal to the Tribunal. Mr Q’s organisation decided to use the money it would have spent appealing to do some of the required works to the HMO.
- Ms X complained to us on Mr Q’s behalf in December 2018. She complained about the HEO’s conduct and about the Council’s handling of her complaint. Among other things, Ms X said the HEO did not provide any explanations and added more works to the schedule following every visit. And she said the complaint process was not fair or independent of the people being complained about.
- In response to a draft of this decision, Ms X further explained why she was complaining. Among other things she said:
- the complaint was about the actions of the HEO and how she assessed the works on the schedules;
- the HEO was influenced by one of the tenants who encouraged other tenants to complaint;
- the HEO was biased towards the tenant and this impaired her judgement;
- some tenants were obstructive and deliberately damaged the property, but the Council had not taken account of this;
- the HEO said works had been done to her satisfaction but did not remove them from the schedules;
- there were errors in the schedules of works; and
- the Council was discriminating against Mr Q’s organization.
- We will not investigate this complaint.
- The Council served an Improvement Notice on Mr Q. If he disagreed with the Notice or the works it required him to do he could have appealed to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). The points Ms X made about the HEO, the Council, the tenants, and the schedules of works could all have been raised in an appeal. The Tribunal could then have decided whether the works were necessary. So I think it would have been reasonable for Mr Q to appeal if he thought the Council’s actions and the schedule of works were so flawed.
- Ms X also complained about the Council’s handling of her complaints. We will not investigate the substantive issues for the reasons given in the paragraph above. So it would not be a good use of public resources to investigate Ms X’s complaint about the Council’s handling of her complaints about the matter.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman