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Royal Borough of Greenwich (19 015 377)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 10 Feb 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint that the Council wrongly issued a completion certificate for substandard work carried out on a property he has since purchased. This is because we cannot achieve any worthwhile outcome for Mr X.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr X, complains the Council issued a completion certificate for works which do not comply with the Building Regulations. He purchased the property after the works were completed and says he had paid more than £20,000 to put them right.

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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
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, 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)

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How I considered this complaint

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

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What I found

  1. Mr X bought a property in 2018. He noticed signs of damp and instructed a builder to look into the issue. They identified issues with work carried out by a previous owner which Mr X believes the Council should have identified in its role as building inspector. He has spent £20,000 to put the issues right and believes the Council should pay him compensation towards these costs.
  2. 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’. 
  3. On request and when satisfied after taking 'all reasonable steps' that the Regulations have been met, the Council must issue a completion certificate. But this is not a guarantee that all works have been done to the required 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.
  4. It is unlikely we could prove the Council was aware of issues with the works at the time it issued the completion certificate but even if we could, we cannot attribute the injustice Mr X claims to any fault by the Council. Mr X was not the owner of the property at the time the work was carried out and the completion certificate issued and he is only affected by the matter now as a result of his decision to purchase the property.
  5. When purchasing a property it is for the buyer to satisfy themselves that any work has been completed to a satisfactory standard; they cannot rely on a completion certificate alone. The courts have also held that councils are not liable for the cost of correcting a defect resulting from any failure to ensure compliance with the building regulations; liability rests with the owner of the building and those carrying out the work (Murphy v Brentwood District Council (1990) and Governors of Peabody Donation Fund v Sir Lindsay Parkinson & Co Ltd & ORS (1984)). The issues Mr X has encountered are a direct result of work carried out by a previous owner/their builder and we cannot say the Council must pay for repairs.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because we cannot achieve any worthwhile outcome for Mr X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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