The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate Ms X’s complaint about Council boundary works damaging her patio, and how it dealt with her complaint. The Council has offered a suitable remedy for the damage which is in line with the one we may have sought had it not already been offered. Nails in the fence do not cause Ms X such injustice to warrant us investigating. We will not investigate a council’s complaint handling process in isolation where we do not intend to investigate the core issue which gave rise to the complaint.
- Ms X owns a property with a garden that shares a boundary with a Council-owned allotment site. She says the Council’s contractor damaged her patio when installing the fence. She complains the Council has:
- failed to provide a remedy for the damage to her patio;
- delayed in dealing with her complaint;
- a contribution of £1,000 from the Council to partially pay for works to her garden where the patio currently stands;
- a remedy from the Council for her time and trouble, nails the contractors left protruding through the Council’s fence, and its handling of her complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
- we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation, or
- further investigation would not lead to a different outcome.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
How I considered this complaint
- I considered:
- information provided by Ms X;
- the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code;
- Ms X’s response to my draft decision.
- Since making her original complaint to the Council, Ms X has decided she does not want to retain the patio but replace it with lawn. We would only expect the Council to consider the costs of the damage done to the patio. We would not expect officers to take into account the costs of alternative works Ms X is now planning.
- I invited Ms X to send evidence the repairs would not be met by the Council’s £600 offer. Ms X says she has one quotation from a contractor which shows ‘the repair bill will be £1,800’. But that is not a quotation for the repair of the patio and any other damage Ms X says was caused by the Council’s contractors. It is a quotation for the entirety of work Ms X now wants to do to the part of her garden where the patio is currently located.
- The Council’s offer of £600 for the repairs to the edge of Ms X’s garden and patio is an appropriate remedy. The remedy sum offered is in line with the one we would have sought had it not already been made. There would be no different outcome or additional benefit to be gained from us investigating.
- If Ms X wishes the Council to accept liability, pay a larger amount, or wishes to argue it should partially fund her proposed garden works to replace the patio, she may wish to take the Council to court. Ms X might want to seek independent legal advice before taking that route.
- Ms X wants a further remedy for her time and trouble. I consider the Council’s earlier apologies to Ms X are sufficient remedy her inconvenience. Had we investigated the core issue, an apology is the outcome we would have sought for any such aspect of the complaint.
- Ms X also requests a remedy for the ‘dangerous nature of the nails’ protruding from the fence the Council installed. The Council offered to deal with the nails last year. Ms X refused because she did not want the contractors who fitted the fence to do that work. In any event, there is insufficient injustice caused to Ms X by the nails to warrant us investigating. If she had injured herself or any of her property on them, and she held the Council responsible, that would be a personal injury or damages claim. It would be for the courts to rule on such matters.
- Ms X has complained about the Council’s complaint process. Where we are not investigating the core issue which gave rise to the complaint, we do not look at councils’ complaint processes in isolation. It is not a good use of public funds for us to do so. That limitation applies here, so we will not investigate the Council’s complaint process.
- We will not investigate this complaint because:
- the Council has provided a suitable remedy for the repairs and complaint handling, which is in line with what we may have sought had it not already been offered, so there is no further benefit or outcome to be gained for Ms X from us investigating; and
- there is not enough injustice caused to Ms X by the fence nails to warrant us investigating; and
- we will not investigate the Council’s complaint handling process where we do not intend to investigate the core issue which gave rise to the complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman