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Northumberland County Council (18 014 447)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Feb 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman does not propose to investigate Mr X’s complaint that the Council wrongly signed off work to his property carried out by a developer and made a false statement to his solicitor. Although the Council accepts its statement is wrong and that the work does not meet the required standards we cannot hold it responsible for the faulty work. We cannot therefore direct the Council to pay for remedial work as Mr X would like.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr X, complains the Council signed off work to his property by the previous owner which was not compliant with the Building Regulations. He says the Council told his solicitor the heating system installed at the property was certified He says he is unable to sell his property until remedial work is carried out and wants the Council to contribute to his costs.

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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
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, 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)

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I reviewed Mr X’s complaint, shared my draft decision with him and took account of his comments.

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What I found

  1. Building regulations set standards for the design and construction of buildings to ensure the health and safety of people in and about those buildings. A completion certificate for building work is not a guarantee that all works are completed to the necessary standard. All the certificate can and does state is that, as far as the Council could tell at the time, building work complied with the building regulations.
  2. Mr X bought his property from a developer in 2012. The Council issued a completion certificate for work carried out by the developer to convert the property from a barn to a dwelling. Mr X says the Council wrongly confirmed the work complied with the building regulations and incorrectly told his solicitor the heating system was certified by the installer when it was not. He says the heating system is unsafe and believes the Council should contribute towards remedial work costing £30,000 to bring it up to standard.
  3. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. When carrying out their functions under the Building Regulations, local authorities may visit at various stages but the number and timings of any inspections vary by local authority and type of development. Local authorities are not present for the great majority of the project and do not act as a ‘clerk of works’. On request and when satisfied after taking 'all reasonable steps' that the Regulations have been met, they 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 local authority to maintain building standards in general, rather than imposing a duty to maintain standards in each particular case.
  4. While the Council accepts it incorrectly told Mr X’s solicitor that the heating system was certified we cannot hold it responsible for putting right the faulty work; caselaw has established that liability rests with those who commissioned the work and those who carried it out. The Council has agreed to pay Mr X £1,800 to deal with a pressing safety issue but we cannot force it to pay anything more. If Mr believes the Council is liable for his costs, especially given the amount he claims, it would be reasonable for him to make a claim through the courts.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because we cannot achieve the outcome Mr X wants.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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