London Borough of Hounslow (19 015 853)

Category : Other Categories > Commercial and contracts

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 14 Aug 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains about how the Council handled the marketing and bidding for a business property she wanted to rent. She says she suffered disappointment and uncertainty as a result. The Council is not at fault.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains about how the Council handled the marketing and bidding for a business property. She also says the Council’s agent failed to respond to her phone calls and voicemails and the Council did not respond to her complaint properly.
  2. Ms X says this meant she suffered disappointment and uncertainty.

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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. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  2. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  3. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended)
  4. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  5. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered:
    • all the information Ms X provided and discussed the complaint with her; and
    • the Council’s comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided.
  2. Ms X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Background

  1. The Council uses a consultancy company to oversee the marketing of properties it owns. The consultancy company works with a local agent to advertise the properties, arrange viewings and collect bids.
  2. The Council says local agents typically market properties by putting up a letting board and producing a document detailing the particulars of the sale.
  3. Once bids have been received, the agent sends them to the consultancy company along with a recommendation for the best offer. The consultancy company then further considers the bids and recommendation and passes the information on to the Council.

What happened

  1. Ms X sought to rent a property from the Council for business use. Before 2019, the Council used a letting agent to advertise the vacancy. Ms X enquired with the agent but did not take further action.
  2. In February 2019, the Council appointed a new agent. The new agent put up a letting board and produced a marketing document for the property.
  3. In May 2019, Ms X enquired with the new agent and made a verbal offer to one of its employees. Ms X says the employee suggested the level of rent the Council were looking for, which she included in her bid. She says the employee suggested the level of rent would mean Ms X’s bid was successful and said there had not been any other bids.
  4. The agent sent the business plan to the consultancy company and in July, confirmed summary details of Ms X’s bid.
  5. A second employee at the agent later called Ms X to confirm her interest in the property. Ms X says this suggests her bid was not submitted when first made.
  6. In August 2019, the agent sent final details of all the bids it received, including Ms X’s, to the consultancy company. The agent included its recommendation for the best offer. The consultancy company passed the information to the Council.
  7. The Council decided to lease the property to the person the agent and consultancy company recommended. The Council said this was because that person had better experience, had started to plan the interior of the property and offered a longer lease with an overall higher rent.
  8. Ms X was unhappy with the Council’s decision and complained in August 2019. She said the accepted the Council had chosen the best offer but felt the agent had given her misleading information and had not submitted the details of her bid properly.

Findings

Bidding

  1. The Ombudsman cannot question a Council’s decision where it has followed the correct process. As the Council is responsible for the actions or omissions of organisations working for it, we can also consider whether the agent and consultancy company followed the correct process.
  2. Ms X says the agent failed to pass her bid onto the Council when she submitted it. However, the Council’s process only required the agent to collate the bids before submitting them to the consultancy company for consideration.
  3. The agent sent initial details of Ms X’s bid to the consultancy company twice between May and July 2019 and final details in August 2019, along with the other bids on the property. There is no evidence the agent or the consultancy company failed to provide the Council with Ms X’s bid before the Council made its decision. The Council considered all the relevant information and decided to lease the property to another applicant. As there is no evidence of fault in how the agency, consultancy company, or Council dealt with the bids, I cannot criticise the Council’s decision.

Communication and complaints handling

  1. Ms X says the employee she made her verbal bid to told her she was the only applicant and misled her into believing her bid would be successful. However, as there is no written record of Ms X’s discussions with the employee, I cannot make a judgement on what was said.
  2. Ms X also says the Council failed to respond to her calls and voicemail messages. Ms X was able to make her bid and submit supporting evidence to the Council before it made its decision. Therefore, I do not consider any failure by the Council to respond to her calls caused Ms X significant personal injustice.
  3. Ms X says the Council failed to respond to her complaint in full and that it should not have shared details of her complaint with the agent or asked the agent for comments. Ms X says this means the complaint response was not independent.
  4. I am satisfied the Council responded to Ms X’s concerns appropriately. The complaint response addressed the key elements of Ms X’s complaint. The Ombudsman expects councils to make suitable enquiries of organisations contracted to undertake work for it in order to provide a full response.
  5. If Ms X has concerns about the Council sharing her personal details with the agent, she may complain to the Information Commissioners Officer (ICO). The ICO is the body best placed to deal with concerns about information security.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have not found evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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