The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms C complains about how the Council dealt with building control matters at a neighbouring development. The Ombudsman will not continue this investigation because the matters complained of are more appropriate for Ms C’s own legal action.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms C, complains about how the Council dealt with building control matters at a neighbouring development. In particular, Ms C says the Council:
- failed to check demolition work;
- failed to check the plans provided;
- failed to ensure correct and timely structural calculations;
- allowed a gutter that is not fit for purpose;
- allowed work that does not meet building regulations; and
- allowed damage to her property by works it approved.
- Ms C says because of the Council’s fault she has suffered unnecessary stress which has affected her health and damage to her property with an estimated repair cost of £38,000.
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 or continue with an investigation if:
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
- we think the issues could reasonably be, or have been, raised within a court of law.
(Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the papers provided by Ms C and discussed the complaint with her. I have explained my draft decision to Ms C and the Council and provided an opportunity for comment.
What I found
- Most building work, whether new, alterations, or extensions requires Building Regulation approval. The Regulations set standards for the design and construction of buildings and ensure health and safety for people in and about those buildings. “Approved documents” give examples of how developers can meet the Regulations but these examples do not have to be followed.
- Building Regulations approval can usually be obtained in one of two ways:
- with full plans where drawings are deposited for approval and building work is subsequently checked on site for compliance with the Regulations (not compliance with the approved plans); or
- by a notice of commencement of building work which is given before starting work and the various stages of the work are then inspected and approved but no plans are checked.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate most building control complaints as the primary responsibility for building work rests with those who commission it and do the work. When carrying out their functions, local authorities will normally visit at various stages but they are not required to do so and will not be present for most of the project and do not act as a ‘clerk of works’.
- On request and when satisfied after taking “all reasonable steps” the Regulations have been met, the local authority must issue a completion certificate. This is not a guarantee that all works have been done to the required standard. Building Regulations provide a means for the Council to maintain building standards in general, rather than imposing a duty to maintain standards in each particular case.
- The typical building control complaint the Ombudsman would not normally investigate is a complaint about damage to property caused by a neighbour’s building work. This is because such a complaint would normally be a matter for private legal action by the property owner against the neighbour.
- Based on the information provided, I have decided not to investigate Ms C’s complaint further. This is because as set out above the primary responsibility for the building work is Ms C’s neighbour and/or builder. I have looked at the outcome Ms C is seeking and consider she has a legal remedy available which it is reasonable for her to use and is the most appropriate avenue for her to pursue.
- I have stopped my investigation as the matters complained of are more appropriate for Ms C’s own legal action.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman