The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained the Council refused to cut back overgrowth encroaching into his garden and affecting his use of it and attracting vermin. We found fault by the Council in its communication with Mr X but consider the action it had already taken of contacting the organisation responsible for the land and apology to Mr X with its proposed action of a payment of £250 provided a suitable remedy.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains the Council has refused to cut back overgrowth from its land which is encroaching into his garden and affecting his use of it and attracting vermin. Mr X says this is affecting his mental health and he wants the Council to do the work and to put in place a barrier to prevent the overgrowth encroaching into his garden again.
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. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused significant injustice, or that could cause injustice to others in the future we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with an organisation’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 read the papers provided by Mr X and discussed the complaint with him. I also considered information from the Council. I explained my draft decision to Mr X and the Council and provided an opportunity for comment.
What I found
- The area of overgrown land is a fenced strip between rear gardens that back onto each other from two residential streets.
- Mr X contacted the Council in August 2022 to say it had previously cut back weeds encroaching into his garden and had agreed to put in place a membrane to prevent further encroachment but this action had not been completed. Mr X explained it was now a problem again.
- The Council advised Mr X in September that the issue was the responsibility of his landlord which is a housing association. Mr X challenged this assertion and explained the Council had previously paid for works to be completed.
- The Council visited the area in October to obtain a quote for possible work. This was not progressed and no further information was provided to Mr X.
- Mr X subsequently sought an update. The Council advised Mr X in April 2023 that there was no budget to maintain the area of land.
- The Council has since confirmed that although it is the freeholder of the land in question it granted a long lease in 1992 to a housing association. The Council has provided a copy of the relevant land tile and lease documents for this area of land.
- The lease places obligations on the housing association about the repair, decoration and maintenance of the area. This includes requirements to maintain in good order and cultivate all grassed or landscaped land and keep the area clean and tidy.
- The Council wrote to the housing association in July 2023 to confirm the above and remind it of its responsibilities.
- In responding to my enquiries on the complaint, the Council has offered to make a payment of £250 to Mr X to recognise the confusion and inconvenience it caused him by not having all the correct information in relation to the lease position and responsibilities.
- The Council has also accepted that it should not have treated Mr X’s subsequent complaint about how his request had been handled as withdrawn and should have progressed this through its complaint procedure. The Council has apologised for this error and issued a reminder to relevant staff.
- The Council has now provided good evidence about the ownership and responsibilities in relation to this area of land. The Council has also provided evidence of its contact with the housing association to remind it about its responsibilities. However, there was a clear delay in doing so and in advising Mr X of the correct situation. This fault has understandably caused Mr X avoidable frustration and raised expectations. This was exacerbated by the Council’s further fault in not progressing the matter as it should through its complaint procedure.
- However, now the situation has been clarified, I consider the Council’s apology and offer of a symbolic payment above is in accordance with our Guidance on Remedies and we would not seek more.
- I have completed my investigation as I have found fault but consider the action the Council has already taken as set out above together with its proposed payment provides a suitable remedy.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman