Barnsley Council raised the price of a narrow strip of land it had agreed to sell to a woman for her extension – effectively valuing a small triangle of land, 7 inches at its widest point, at £4,000.
Photo: The white triangle held by the Ombudsman’s investigator represents the area of land that the Council valued at £4,000.
The Ombudsman said the woman “…justifiably feels a strong sense of outrage that the Council should have exploited her situation to try to obtain what she describes as an ‘extortionate’ price.” She added that it was inconceivable that the Council could have obtained any value for the land from anyone else.
Ms J (real names are not used for legal reasons) asked Barnsley Council to sell her a narrow strip of land along the side boundary of her home. She was building an extension and wanted the land to use as a path to the front and back of her home. The Council agreed to sell the land for £2,950.
Before the sale was completed a Council officer visited Ms J and decided that her extension was being built onto a small, triangular part of the strip it had agreed to sell to her. The officer told Ms J that the land would be revalued and that she might have to demolish the partly-built extension.
The Council decided that the small triangular piece of land that it believed the extension was on had a greater value to Ms J than if she were just using it for a path. It said it now wanted £7,000 for the narrow strip of land – effectively valuing the small triangle of land, 20cms or 7inches at its widest point, at £4,000.
This caused Ms J a great deal of worry, together with delay and additional expense in building her extension. The Council’s suggestion that Ms J had inflicted delay on herself by complaining was reprehensible, added the Ombudsman.
Council officers were adamant that they had followed ‘proper valuation practice’ and the Council's standard policy and procedure when someone encroaches onto its land. The officers said that they could not make any exception to the standard policy and procedure on encroachment because that would introduce ‘bias’.
The Ombudsman found that the Council acted with maladministration in deciding that Ms J’s extension encroached onto the land it had agreed to sell to her and to increase the price by £4,000 because it:
- did not have regard to the widely acknowledged margin of error on drawn plans of plus or minus almost a metre
- did not consider the particular circumstances of this case when setting the increased price (which includes Ms J’s means and that the land has no value to anyone else) and so has not properly addressed what price can ‘reasonably be obtained’, and
- fettered its discretion by rigidly applying its policy and procedure on encroachment and not considering whether to make an exception.
After receiving a draft of this report the Council sought Counsel’s advice and resisted the Ombudsman’s findings. As the report was about to be published the Council received advice from the District Valuer that its entire approach to the valuation of the triangle was incorrect and the value of the land was considerably less than it had tried to obtain.
The Ombudsman recommended that the Council should remedy the injustice by:
- apologising to Ms J
- transferring all the narrow strip of land to her without cost
- paying her £1,500 in recognition of the distress caused to her, and
- paying the costs arising from the delay to completing her extension.