The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained the Council delayed in removing a restriction against her property. The Council is not at fault.
- Mrs X complained the Council delayed in removing a restriction against her home which meant she could not secure a new mortgage. She states Council staff were rude and unhelpful when trying to resolve the matter. She says the delay has meant she had to pay a higher rate of interest on her mortgage and the stress has impacted on her health.
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 discussed the complaint with Mrs X.
- I considered the Council’s response to my enquiries.
- Mrs X and the Council both had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- The Land Registry holds electronic records for every property registered with it. The property’s record is split into three registers including the Proprietorship Register and the Charges Register.
- The Proprietorship Register states who the legal owner is and any entries that affect the transfer of the property. A property may be owned by a person but have a restriction, meaning consent is needed before it is sold. The restriction may be in favour of a management company, or an individual to secure a debt.
- When buying a property, the buyer’s solicitor is responsible for checking the property’s register for any outstanding restrictions. Restrictions are held against the property and not the owner; therefore, they stay with the property even when sold.
- In May 2018, Mrs X tried to re-mortgage a property she bought two years ago. The mortgage lender found there was a restriction on the property in favour of the Council.
- Mrs X states she contacted the Council on multiple occasions asking it to remove the restriction. She states she visited the Council twice. On both occasions, the Council told her it was dealing with the matter.
- Between May and the start of July 2018, the Council’s legal team were in contact with Mrs X’s solicitors.
- In July 2018, Mrs X contacted the Ombudsman to complain the Council was failing to respond to her. The Ombudsman contacted the Council with Mrs X’s complaint.
- In August, the Council sent a first stage complaint response to Mrs X. It confirmed the Chief Executive gave consent for the transfer of the property to Mrs X. The Council also apologised for the delay in dealing with the matter, caused by the case officer responsible recently leaving the Council.
- This letter did not remove the restriction on the property. Mrs X’s solicitor contacted the Council and said it could not proceed with the mortgage on this basis and the restriction needed to be removed. Following this, the Council agreed that even though there was a debt outstanding, the restriction would be removed.
- On 6 September 2018, the Council sent a second stage response to Mrs X’s complaint. It explained the Council had agreed to remove the restriction entirely from the register despite there still being a debt outstanding. The Council submitted this request to the Land Registry for completion.
- The Council told Mrs X it was not prepared to pay her compensation. It advised Mrs X she had bought the property when it already had a restriction against it. Her solicitor should have advised her of this at time of purchase. The Council had not recovered the money owed which was why the restriction still applied.
- Mrs X did not receive the Council’s second stage response as it was sent it to an old address.
- In response to my enquiries the Council stated the amount owed to the Council against the property was £18,498. It also explained any work on Mrs X’s case stalled in July, after the Officer working on it left. The Ombudsman’s letter in August brought it back to the attention of officers.
- Mrs X was unhappy about the amount of time it took the Council to remove the restriction. Between May and July, the Council were in touch with Mrs X’s solicitors about the restriction. This stalled when the officer involved left, causing delays of around one month. This is not so significant a delay to be considered fault.
- Fundamentally, Mrs X bought the property with a restriction against it. Her solicitor should have identified this when she bought the house. The Council has agreed to remove the restriction without reclaiming the money owed. It did not have to do this. Therefore, even if I had identified fault leading to injustice, these actions would have been more than sufficient to remedy that injustice.
- There was no fault in the Council’s actions. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman