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Milton Keynes Council (18 015 148)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 18 Feb 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Miss X’s complaint that Building Control officers failed to spot that the foundations of her new extension were inadequate. The complaint is late. And in any event. we cannot achieve the outcome Miss X would like.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I have called Miss X, complained that Milton Keynes Council’s Building Control officers failed to spot that the foundations for her new extension were inadequate. She believes the Council has some financial responsibility for putting right the defects.

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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 we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Miss X, including the Council’s final response to her complaint. I invited Miss X to comment on a draft of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Most building work requires Building Regulations approval.
  2. Primary responsibility for ensuring building work meets the required standards lies with those who commission the work and those who do it. Building Control Officers visit at various stages but they are not present for the great majority of the project and they do not act as a clerk of works.
  3. The case of Murphy v Brentwood District Council [1990] was an appeal to the House of Lords. It established that a council is not liable for the costs of putting right defective building work resulting from its failure to ensure compliance with Building Regulations.

Key facts

  1. Miss X had an extension built on her house. The Council’s Building Control officers inspected the foundations and signed them off. However, there was substantial movement in the extension. A survey found that the foundations were inadequate.
  2. Miss X complained to the Council in 2015/16. It disputed the findings in her survey. More recently, Miss X had another survey done and complained to the Council again. It suggested she contact her insurers.
  3. Miss X complained to us in 2018. She thinks the Council is at least partially responsible for the inadequate foundations and that it is financially responsible for putting things right.

Analysis

  1. We will not investigate this complaint.
  2. Miss X complained to the Council about the inadequate foundations in 2015/16, but she did not complain to us until 2018. So the complaint is late.
  3. In any event, the courts have established that councils are not liable for the cost of putting right defective building work when they fail to properly inspect works to ensure compliance with Building Regulations. Because of this ruling, the Council would not be liable for the cost of any remedial works even if it were at fault in the way Miss X alleges. We could not, therefore, ask it to offer Miss X a payment. So even if Miss X had made the complaint on time, we would not be able to achieve the financial remedy she is seeking.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Miss X’s complaint for the reasons given in the Analysis.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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