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North Somerset Council (17 014 993)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 05 Feb 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Miss X’s complaint about the way the Council dealt with her building regulations application. We are unlikely to find fault in the Council’s actions and we cannot achieve what she wants.

The complaint

  1. Miss X says the Council failed to provide her with the service she paid for when she put in a retrospective building regulations application. She wants her money back.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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 or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome; or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A (6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Miss X including the Council’s responses to her complaint. She commented on the draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Miss X had a loft conversion on her property in 1992. In 2016, she had rectification work carried out. She applied retrospectively for a building regulation approval. She paid the fee of approximately £410 and provided details of the build from 1992, as well as details of the rectification work she have had carried out in 2016.
  1. Miss X says she received a letter from the Council stating:

“Having made an initial assessment, the surveyor will tell you if you will be required to open or uncover any elements of structure to facilitate a more thorough examination. When the survey is complete the surveyor will write to you to formally advise you of what you will have to do in order to satisfy the requirements of the Building Regulations"

  1. She says the building control officer visited her property without any details of her application. He told her he would need to review the 1992 regulations and let her know.
  2. After his visit, the officer wrote to Miss X. He told her he needed information to show compliance with the approved documents from 1992. He said he needed to find out if the work was compliant structurally. He asked:
    • Has the roof structure been altered or any supporting members removed and how was this mitigated? 
    • Have the ceiling joists been altered for change of use to a floor?
  3. The officer provided details of the relevant 1992 regulations and advised Miss X to call if she wanted to discuss this.
  4. Miss X says she did not know the answers to the questions and expected the Council to find this out as she considered that was what she had paid it to do.
  5. She says she discussed the matter with her estate agent who told her the cost of putting the work right outweighed having it done. So, she decided not to progress with the application and complained to the Council.
  6. The Council told Miss X that as the work had been completed the officer asked questions to get as much information as possible. This helps to inform the next step in the process and to avoid work such as opening walls and ceilings to expose the structure as this may be unnecessary if the applicant can provide the relevant information. As she decided not to progress the application no further action was taken after the initial visit and email.

Assessment

  1. Miss X decided to put in a retrospective application to regularize the work she had had done in 1992 and 2016. The Council officer visited her home and made a quick initial inspection. He asked relevant questions and wrote to her with the 1992 regulations. He was expecting Miss X to contact him to discuss the matter before deciding what steps should be taken at the next visit.
  2. Miss X says she did not go ahead with any repair work as she was unsure exactly what she needed to do. She also says her estate agent told her it was not worth the cost of putting the work right. Because of this she decided not to take the matter any further. This is a decision she is entitled to make; however, it is not the Council’s fault.
  3. Building control applications involve several visits to a property. It is clear from the Council’s email that it was expecting Miss X to contact the officer to discuss how to progress her application after the first visit. However, she chose not to continue with the process.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate this complaint. This is because we are unlikely to find fault in the Council’s actions. And we cannot achieve what Miss X wants.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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