Colchester Borough Council (19 016 925)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 27 Feb 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint about the incompetence of Council staff in relation a housing improvement notice. This is because the matters have been considered by the tribunal and he does not investigate complaint handling as an isolated issue.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, complains of dishonesty and incompetency of officers. He wants compensation and for the Council to admit wrong-doing.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We cannot investigate a complaint if someone has appealed to a tribunal or a government minister or started court action about the matter. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6), as amended)
  3. The Property Chamber (First Tier Tribunal) considers appeals about Improvement Notices.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I read the complaint and correspondence between Mr X and the Council. I considered the decisions made by the tribunal and comments Mr X made in reply to a draft of this decision.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Mr X is a landlord. The Council served an improvement notice requiring him to do work in a flat that he rents out. For example, the Council said Mr X must do work to deal with excess cold in the flat. The Council said Mr X must pay £500 in costs.
  2. Mr X disagreed with the requirements of the notice. He appealed. In May 2018 the tribunal noted that it was unable to inspect the flat and that Mr X had had trouble gaining access to the flat. The tribunal decided that, by February 2019, Mr X must do necessary repairs to make the flat fit for habitation and remove the housing hazards the Council had identified.
  3. Mr X did some repairs. The tribunal inspected the property and decided Mr X had done enough to satisfy the requirements. The tribunal said the Council had properly served the notice. The tribunal quashed the notice due to the repairs Mr X had completed. The tribunal reduced the costs to £300.
  4. Mr X appealed against the £300 costs. The tribunal confirmed the £300 costs.
  5. Mr X complains about the Council’s handling of the case and about the complaint handling. For example, he says an officer wrote a response in reply to a complaint made against him rather than arranging for his manager to reply. Many of his complaints were considered as part of the tribunal proceedings. Mr says he is complaining about dishonesty and lack of integrity by officers.

Assessment

  1. The main thrust of this complaint is Mr X’s disagreement with the improvement notice and the costs. But, these issues have all been considered as part of the tribunal proceedings and I have no power to investigate any issue that has formed part of tribunal proceedings.
  2. Mr X also complains about the complaint handling. However, the courts have said we cannot investigate a complaint about complaint handling when the main issue is one that we cannot investigate. In addition, many of the complaints Mr X made about officers were considered as part of the tribunal proceedings. And, while I am not investigating the complaint handling, I have read all the complaint correspondence which shows that the Council provided detailed responses. In addition, a senior officer replied to a complaint that Mr X made against one of her team. All the replies were reviewed by a different officer at the final stage of the process. I appreciate Mr X feels there were many failings in the complaint handling but I have not seen anything to suggest that we can or should investigate that part of the complaint.

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Final decision

  1. I will not start an investigation because the issues have been considered by the tribunal and we do investigate complaint handling as an isolated issue.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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