The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms X complains the Council did not deal with a dispute about her allotment properly. The Council is not at fault.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complains the Council has not complied with the tenancy agreement/code of conduct regarding her allotment because:
- it did not properly review the decision of the management committee; and
- a mediation meeting wasn’t held properly.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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 have spoken to Ms X about their complaint and considered the information she has provided to the Ombudsman. I have also considered the Council’s response to their complaint and its response to my enquiries.
- Ms 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
Allotment tenancy agreement/Code of conduct
- The Council may terminate the tenancy by giving 28 days written notice to quit if the tenant is in breach of the tenancy agreement. The code of conduct forms part of the tenancy agreement.
- The code of conduct says allotment holders must treat others with respect, understand all views are important, respect individuals right to manage their plots, and not discriminate against others.
- The code of conduct says any disputes that may arise, and which cannot be satisfactorily resolved between the parties involved, should be referred in the first instance to the site committee. If this does not result in a satisfactory conclusion then it can be referred in writing to the Council.
- On receipt of a complaint Council Officers will:
- respond in writing within 10 working days.
- respond professionally and with impartiality and objectivity.
- endeavour to clarify any misunderstandings related to the Tenancy Agreement and/or Self-Management Agreement.
- seek to resolve issues as quickly as possible.
- keep the matter confidential between the parties concerned.
- offer to arrange mediation to help resolve interpersonal disputes where the Council considers this to be appropriate.
- The allotment association held a special committee meeting to consider a complaint against Ms X. Shortly afterwards it issued a notice to quit to Ms X. The notice to quit was then reissued with a subsequent date, after Ms X challenged it.
- Ms X then appealed in writing to the Council. The Council reviewed information about her complaint and decided to hold a mediation meeting.
- After Ms X attended the mediation meeting, the Council wrote to Ms X saying the allotment committee had considered the outcomes. The committee said that there was insufficient acknowledgement of the issues raised and no further mitigation was offered to explain why the matters had occurred. The Council upheld the allotment committee’s decision to issue a notice to quit.
- I have seen a legal document from the Council which shows the allotment site is self-managed and the allotment association are entitled to issue notices to quit.
- I have seen documents that show the Council considered a range of information before it responded to Ms X’s appeal including minutes of committee meetings and a written complaint made about Ms X’s behaviour. The Council says it took action to ascertain the nature of other complaints and the names of plotholders making them. It is clear from the documents that there were personal conflicts between Ms X and other plotholders and committee members at the allotment site.
- The Council also arranged a mediation meeting to try to find a positive solution to the problems.
- On the balance of probabilities, the Council had sufficient information to review the decision processes of the allotment management committee. It acted in accordance with the Code of conduct. This is not fault by the Council.
- I have seen a copy of the agenda and the minutes of the mediation meeting which the Council arranged. I have not seen any evidence in those documents that the mediation meeting was not held properly. This is not fault by the Council.
- I have not found fault by the Council. I have now completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman