Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 20 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The complaint is about the Council’s actions under its private housing health and safety powers. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint because it would have been reasonable to use the right to appeal to a tribunal.
- Mr X complains the Council wrongly used its private housing health and safety powers in respect of a property his parents Mr and Mrs Y rented out. Mr X says this obstructed Mr and Mrs Y’s efforts to evict their tenants, causing stress and inconvenience. Mr X also argues his father, Mr Y, would still be alive but for the Council’s alleged faults.
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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mr X provided and copies of the complaint correspondence the Council sent me. I also considered the relevant law. I shared my draft decision with Mr X and considered his comments on it.
What I found
- Mr X complains on behalf of his parents, Mr and Mrs Y. Sadly, Mr Y has died.
- The events leading to the complaint about the Council mainly happened in 2018. At that time Mr and Mrs Y were renting out a residential property they owned. They had started court action seeking to evict their tenants for breaching the tenancy agreement.
- The Council became involved under its powers to deal with some matters concerning disrepair in private housing. The Council inspected the property and said some hazards existed. In October 2018 the Council served an improvement notice identifying certain hazards it said still existed and stating what it wanted to happen to resolve them.
- Mr X says the Council was selective and inaccurate in its reporting of hazards it said existed. An improvement notice has the effect of stopping eviction proceedings in some circumstances. So Mr X argues the Council’s action prevented Mr and Mrs Y being able to remove their tenants. Mr X also says later, in March 2019, the Council said it had received no written communications from the tenants or any occupant complaining of disrepair. He believes the Council was wrong to serve an improvement notice without such written communications.
- Without an improvement notice, the Council could not require any works to the property, neither could the eviction proceedings be stopped. So the claimed injustice to Mr and Mrs Y – thwarting the eviction proceedings and requiring them to do works to the property – stems from the serving of the improvement notice. Anyone dissatisfied at receiving an improvement notice can appeal within 21 days to an independent tribunal, which can quash or change the notice if it sees fit. So the restriction at paragraph 3 applies.
- Mr X says his parents did not appeal because:
- At the time, Mr Y believed the tenants had complained to the Council about property’s state of repair though Mr X now doubts that happened;
- In June 2018 Mr and Mrs Y were subject to a serious crime, which caused significant stress afterwards; and
- Mr Y was poorly advised by his solicitor.
- Mr X says the Council altered its records then claimed the notice had been complied with February 2019. Mr X states the Council was still inspecting after then and Mr X believes a hazard remains so the notice is outstanding. Mr X says he was advised if the notice has been complied with it would be harder to secure a late appeal.
- Mr X says the notice did not include everything it should have as it omitted mentioning a fire hazard that remains in the property. I understand Mr X argues that if this had been included, the matter would have escalated, which could have helped Mr X’s argument for a late appeal or enabled him to challenge the Council if it sought to issue a fine for non-compliance.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman