The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about a delay by the Council in issuing a £1.50 refund. This is because the Council has provided a proportionate response and there is not enough injustice to warrant an investigation.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, complains that the Council took too long to reimburse £1.50 after it put inadequate postage on a letter. Mr X wants an apology and £5 compensation.
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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if we believe:
- the Council has already provided a proportionate response; or
- the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and checked the Council has paid the £1.50 to Mr X. I considered comments Mr X made in reply to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The Council sent a letter to Mr X and did not pay enough postage. Mr X had to pay £1.50 in extra postage.
- In November the Council agreed to reimburse Mr X for the £1.50. Mr X did not receive the payment so he complained.
- The Council apologised for the excessive delay in making the payment. The Council says the delay was unacceptable and below the standard Mr X is entitled to expect. The Council denied Mr X’s request for compensation because he has not had a financial loss. The Council pointed out that even if there had been a delay of a year, the loss of interest would be less than 3p.
- The Council issued a cheque for £1.50 in May. Mr X did not receive the cheque. He says the Council did not respond to his questions about whether it had made the payment.
- The Council issued a second cheque for £1.50 on 13 August. It has posted the cheque to Mr X. I have seen a screenshot confirming the second cheque has been issued. The Council has cancelled the first cheque.
- Mr X is dissatisfied with the response and wants £5 compensation. He says the incident has been time consuming and stressful and he does not have spare money to cover postage that should be paid for by the Council. He also complains that the Council did not tell him it had issued the cheque and did not answer any of his enquiries when he was trying to find out what was happening with the payment.
- The Council took far too long to reimburse Mr X. The Council agreed to make the payment in November but did not issue it until May. However, while there was an excessive delay, I will not start an investigation for the following reasons.
- The Council has apologised and made the refund. Given the small amount of money involved this was a fair and proportionate response and I would not have expected the Council to pay compensation. In addition, although Mr X did not receive the May payment, the Council is not responsible for letters that are lost in the post.
- Secondly, a dispute over £1.50, or a dispute over a £5 request for compensation, does not represent sufficient injustice to require an investigation. I appreciate Mr X spent time chasing the payment and says the Council failed to communicate with him, but he has not suffered a financial loss and the impact is not serious enough to justify an investigation.
- I will not start an investigation because the Council has provided a fair response and there is not enough injustice to warrant an investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman