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London Borough of Ealing (20 009 052)

Category : Other Categories > Commercial and contracts

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 28 Jan 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not exercise discretion to investigate this complaint about the Council ending a garage tenancy. This is because the complaint is late with no good reason to investigate the complaint now.

The complaint

  1. Ms Y complains the Council failed to serve a Notice to Quit on her before ending a tenancy on a garage lease in 2012. She complains the Council continued to accept her payments of the rent for the garage for several years before moving the vehicle kept in the garage onto the road where it was then stolen.
  2. Ms Y says the car was stolen and then sold online for over £10,000. She says the car also had sentimental value.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  2. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided about the complaint. Ms Y 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

  1. Mr X and Ms Y rented a garage from the Council for several years. Mr X used the garage to store a car from 2002 onwards. He then died in 2006. Ms Y continued to pay the Council for the garage until roughly 2012. The Council says Ms Y then stopped paying the rent. It issued a Notice to Quit to Ms Y to end the tenancy because of the non-payment of rent for the garage. Ms Y says she did not receive it. As the Council did not hear a response, it ended the tenancy and changed the lock on the garage in 2012.
  2. Shortly after this Ms Y started to pay the rent again. The Council, although it did not assign them to a tenancy, received these payments.
  3. In 2018 the Council gave permission for the garages, including that previously rented by Ms Y, to be demolished. An external contractor emptied any of the contents of the garages in May 2019. On finding the car, efforts were then made to trace the owner. In the middle of May the car was moved onto the road to allow for the demolition work to progress. The car was then stolen from the roadside by a person claiming to be its owner. Ms Y was not aware of the theft until a relative saw the car for sale online for over £10,000.
  4. Ms Y reported the theft to the Police and Ms Y made a complaint to the Council through her local MP. The Council refunded the rent Ms Y’s had paid since the end of the tenancy in August 2019.
  5. The Council’s complaint response was given in October 2019. It explained the tenancy had ended because the rent was not paid in 2012. The Council said it was not liable to pay the value of the car. Ms Y’s MP responded shortly afterwards, explaining that Ms Y disagreed.
  6. In May 2020 Ms Y’s MP then contacted the Council again asking it to reconsider its response. The Council then responded in October. It said it no longer held the relevant records as these had been destroyed after six years in line with its data policy. Consequently, it was unable to add further to the response it had already given. Ms Y then approached the Ombudsman for a response in December 2020.

Analysis

  1. Ms Y became aware of her reason to complain in May 2019 when a relative found her car for sale online. While Ms Y has not provided an exact date, she was aware of the problem in August 2019 when the Council refunded the rent Ms Y had paid. This means Ms Y was aware of her complaint for more than 12 months before she contacted the Ombudsman. This means her complaint is late.
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. In this case the Council responded to the complaint in October 2019. While Ms Y did indicate that she was not happy with the response in October 2019, she did not then bring the matter to the Ombudsman until December 2020.
  3. Our website provides guidance which says a person may bring a complaint to the Ombudsman once the Council has had a chance to consider the issue and provide a response. We say three months is usually enough time for this to happen and people can come to the Ombudsman to ask us to consider investigating their complaint after this time. In this case, Ms Y did not approach us until more than 12 months after the Council’s initial complaint response. There is no evidence to suggest there were good reasons to have waited for this time before coming to the Ombudsman. Consequently, there is not a good reason to exercise discretion and we will not investigate this complaint.
  4. Ms Y’s desired outcome from our investigation is the value of her car which was stolen. The car sold online for over £10,000. This is not a remedy we could recommend, as the car was stolen and its loss is not a direct result of the Council’s action. As it was not a direct consequence of the Council’s actions, we would not be able to recommend such a payment. Other bodies, such as the police or Ms Y’s insurer, would be better placed to consider the loss of the value of the car and how this can be remedied.
  5. Further as the Council destroyed the records, it is unlikely we could investigate this complaint to achieve an outcome. The relevant records would not be available for us to consider whether the Council was at fault. We would therefore not be able to investigate this complaint fairly for Ms Y or the Council. We will therefore not investigate this complaint as due to the passage of time the records needed to consider the complaint are no longer available.

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Final decision

We will not exercise discretion investigate this complaint about the ending of a garage tenancy. This is because the complaint is late with no good reason to investigate the complaint now.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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