Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 18 Feb 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complains the Council wrongly disposed of belongings from a garage it leased to her husband for a second time. The Council has accepted there was fault. It has apologised, made service improvements and offered payments for Mrs X’s time, trouble and distress. I am satisfied these are a suitable remedy for the injustice caused. The courts are better placed to deal with the dispute about the value of the lost property.
- The complainant, Mrs X, complains the Council wrongly repossessed her husband’s garage and disposed of their belongings. She says this has caused substantial financial loss, distress and time and trouble.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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 could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
- We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I reviewed Mrs X’s complaint and the Council’s response.
- Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- Due to an error with its records, in April 2019 the Council wrongly repossessed the garage Mr X rents from the Council and disposed of the belongings he stored inside. Mrs X says this was the second time the Council had done this.
- Mrs X complained to the Council in September 2019. The Council accepted it had cleared the wrong garage and refunded the rent they had paid since April 2019. The Council had since taken action to ensure the garages were correctly numbered and its systems and records were updated correctly.
- In its final complaint response, the Council apologised and offered Mrs X £100 for her time and trouble and a further £500 for distress caused by its actions.
- The Council referred Mrs X to its insurers to deal with the claim. Mrs X is unhappy with the insurer’s valuation of the lost items. She says they have offered £1,000 but the collection was worth around £7,000.
- Mrs X says they have spent £1,800 on solicitor’s fees and want the Council to reimburse them for this. They are also concerned they have to deal with the insurance company directly, when the problem was caused by the Council.
- There was fault by the Council when it wrongly cleared Mr and Mrs X’s garage. As well as the loss of property, this has caused them distress and inconvenience. The Council’s apology and offer of financial remedy is in line with the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies. I am satisfied it is a suitable remedy for the injustice caused.
- It is concerning that this was the second time the garages were wrongly cleared, but the Council has now amended its records and it is unlikely that any further investigation by me would lead to a different outcome.
- The loss of Mr X’s property is a matter for the Council’s insurers. It is not appropriate for the Ombudsman to express a view on the Council’s liability or to quantify Mrs X’s losses.
- If Mrs X is not satisfied with the insurers’ decision, she may wish to consider getting legal advice and pursue the matter through the small claims court. In view of the scale of the damages she is seeking, it is reasonable to expect her to consider this option. This is because the courts are better placed to deal with claims for loss or damage to property and their decisions are binding on both parties.
- There was fault by the Council. The actions the Council has agreed to take remedy the injustice caused. The courts are better placed to deal with the dispute about the value of the lost property. I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman