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Mole Valley District Council (17 017 047)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 02 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about inspections carried out by the Council under the Building Regulations. It is unlikely that further investigation will lead to a different result and we cannot achieve the outcome the complainant wants.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains that the Council failed to fulfil its building control responsibility to him when he was building a kitchen extension at his home. He says the Council failed to specify that he must have a brick return or pier at the back of the extension and it will not issue him a completion certificate.
  2. Mr X says the Council is trying to place responsibility for compliance with building regulations on him and his builder when he paid the Council for this service.

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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
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome
  • 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 have considered the information provided by Mr X including the Council’s response to his complaint. He had the opportunity to comment on the draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. People can apply for building regulations approval from their local authority building control service by putting in a building notice. This process does not need plans and has less detail than a full plans application. When using this process, the applicant must be sure the work will comply with the building regulations. If it does not the building control officer can require work is corrected to ensure compliance.
  2. Once the building notice has been put in, the work will be inspected as it progresses. The inspector will advise the applicant or builder if the work does not comply with the building regulations.

What happened

  1. Mr X decided to build a kitchen extension. He put in a building control notice to the Council.
  2. He says the inspector attended and made sure that certain works such as depth of foundations, lintels over drains and the flooring was compliant. However, he says neither he nor his builder have any record of the need for a return wall or pier where the doors are at the back of the property.
  3. When the extension was finished the building control officer visited. However, he refused to issue a completion certificate as the extension did not comply with the regulations.
  4. Mr X complained to the Council. He says the officer did not speak to him or his builder about the need for a return wall/pier while work was in progress.
  5. The Council told Mr X the plans he put in with his building notice show a buttressing return, however, this has not been built. It also says the inspector’s records show the builder told of the need for a buttressed return or suitable alternative during the building works in May. But when he was asked to inspect the completed building in October no such works had been carried out. The officer therefore refused to issue the completion certificate as the works do not comply with building regulations.

Assessment

  1. When carrying out their functions under the building regulations, local authorities will visit developments at various stages. But they will be not be present for most of the project and do not act as a ‘clerk of works’.
  2. The owner of a property is responsible for ensuring building work complies with building regulations. If they are not competent to do this then they are responsible for employing a suitable person. The House of Lords held that it is up to the owner to ensure the building was erected according to those regulations. (Governors of Peabody Donation Fund v Sir Lindsay Parkinson & Co Ltd & ORS (1984)).
  3. But even if the Council was at fault in not making thorough inspections, the Ombudsman would not be able to provide a remedy. The courts decided that you cannot hold a council responsible for economic loss for the cost of correcting a defect that resulted from its failure to ensure that a building complied with the building regulations. (Murphy v Brentwood District Council (1990)).
  4. Where the Courts have held there should be no liability in law it is the Ombudsman’s view that he should impose an obligation on a council in exceptional circumstances. There are no exceptional circumstances which would lead me to decide to start an investigation into the Council’s actions in this case.

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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 the outcome Mr X is seeking.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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