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South Ribble Borough Council (20 010 167)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 27 Jan 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council failed to properly monitor the quality of building works carried out at his property. The Council was not at fault.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains about how the Council’s Building Control team monitored the quality of building works at his property for his son’s Mr Y’s Disabled Facilities Grant. Mr X says the Building Control officer allowed a builder to connect the toilet waste pipe to a disused sewer system causing waste to come into the building. As a result Mr X has incurred considerable cost putting his 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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of this investigation I considered the information provided by Mr X. I discussed the complaint via telephone with Mr X. I made enquiries with the Council and considered the information received in response. I sent a draft of this decision to Mr X and the Council and considered comments received in response.

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What I found

Legislation and guidance

  1. Most building work requires Building Regulation approval. The Regulations set requirements and guidance for the design and construction of buildings and ensure the health and safety of people in and about those buildings.
  2. Building Regulations approval can be obtained by:
    • Full plans application. This option provides the most thorough checks. The building owner or their agent submits plans for approval. Building work is checked on site by an Inspector for compliance with the Regulations. The Council will issue a completion certificate within 8 weeks which states the work is compliant with the Regulations. If the work is not compliant, the Council will issue advice on how it can be made so.
    • Regularisation application. Compliance with Regulations can be certified after the work is done, but only by a Council Building Control service.
  3. The courts have decided that Council building control authorities are not liable to ensure compliance with building regulations – the duty to comply with regulations lies with the builder and building owner, who may be able to take legal action for the consequences of poor/non-compliant work against their contractor, architect or builder. When carrying out their functions, councils will visit at various stages but they will not be present for the great majority of the project and do not act as a 'clerk of works' or project manager. On request, and when satisfied after taking 'all reasonable steps' that the Regulations have been met, they must issue a completion certificate. This not a guarantee that all works have been done to the required standard.
  4. Councils should not be seen as a ‘safety net’ for when things go wrong, nor are they liable for poor or unlawful building work. Council compliance certificates do not guarantee works meet with the Regulations. Their role is to maintain building safety for the public in general, not to protect the private interests of individuals.

What happened

  1. There has been extensive correspondence between Mr X and the Council about this matter. In this section of the statement I summarise key events but I do not refer to every single contact and communication.
  2. Mr X lives in a historical building which has an outbuilding. Mr X lives here with his disabled son Mr Y. In 2018 Mr Y applied for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to turn the outbuilding into a bedroom and wet room. The Council agreed to this on the basis Mr X install a passage to connect the main house to the outbuilding. Mr X agreed to do this and submitted a planning application for the passage which the Council approved.
  3. In December 2018 Building Control received a full plans application from Mr X. Mr X also employed an architect. The Building Control team wrote to Mr X in January 2019 and said his application did not comply with Building Regulations. This was due to issues with the insulation of the passage and ventilation and means of escape in the outbuilding.
  4. New plans were submitted which showed a new window placed into the wet room. The Building Control team conditionally approved the plans on 6 February 2019 but told Mr X to provide details of compliant insulation for the building.
  5. In March 2019 Mr X supplied the Council with four quotes for the building works. He also confirmed his preferred contractor who provided the lowest quote. Mr X employed this contractor to carry out the building works for both the wet room conversion and the passage.
  6. In April 2019 the Council approved the DFG. The works specification for the conversion of the wet room showed the contractors would link all the new drainage to the existing system and the main drain. However the contractors were to agree the exact location with Building Control. The works specification also said the contractor or customer is responsible for obtaining all relevant approvals such as Building Regulations and that the Council is not a party to any contract which may exist between an applicant and contractor.
  7. On 23 May 2019 a Building Control officer inspected the drainage to see if there was a connection. The Officer said the drains should be backfilled. The contractor started the building works at Mr X’s property in July 2019. Building Control inspected Mr X’s property again in September 2019, specifically to look at insulation. It was noted by the Building Control officer that a large amount of works had taken place without inspections, however from pictures seen the insulation looked compliant.
  8. In November 2019 the works were almost complete. The Council’s DFG team asked Building Control to issue a completion certificate so it could pay the contractor for the works. A Building Control inspector viewed the works on 22 November 2019 and found some works had not been completed. This included insulation to the loft space and handrails in the bathroom. Building Control issued a partial completion certificate as there were still outstanding works.
  9. On 27 November 2019 the DFG team visited the site to complete the signoff of the works. It was noted at this visit that the floor behind the toilet was not properly sealed and carer screens had not been installed around the shower. The Council decided that it would withhold £5,000 from payment until these issued were completed, however it paid the remaining balance to the contractor.
  10. In early January 2020 the Council paid the remaining £5,000 to the contractors as Mr X confirmed the outstanding works were completed.
  11. In August 2020 Mr X said the outhouse became unusable as human waste was entering the building through the toilet and shower drainage. Mr X reported this to the Council and asked for details of the Building Control inspections. Mr X also made a freedom of information request for information from the Council.
  12. Mr X said the Council told him to contact United Utilities. Mr X said United Utilities inspected the property with the use of cameras and found the wet room was not directly connected to the drainage system.
  13. Mr X had to carry out excavation works to see where the sewage was being discharged to. He found the contractor connected the waste system to a dead pipe and waste was entering the soil under a car park.
  14. Mr X complained to the Council on 27 September 2020. Mr X said the Council’s Building Controller did not meet the conditions in the works specification for the DFG wet room as Building Control were due to set the location of the drains. He also said Building Control failed to follow up on the work through statutory inspections. Mr X also made a freedom of information request to the Council on 28 September 2020.
  15. In October 2020 Mr X contacted the Council as he had not received a response to his freedom of information request. Mr X said the document containing the specification of works for the wet room shows the Building Controller will outline where the drains should meet the main sewer.
  16. The Council’s Head of Building Control responded to Mr X on 16 October 2020. The Council said:
    • A partial certificate was requested by the DFG team to see if Building Control were satisfied with the Building Regulations work at that point in time, not the quality of the grant works. The Council said the DFG team should carry out their own check prior to paying the money.
    • A full completion is when Building Control is satisfied that work complies with Building Regulations and after a full and final inspection. At a final inspection Building Control may require exposure work if they have not been called out at the key stages by a contractor.
    • Building Control expect a contractor to know what stages to call Building Control out at. It is the contractor or the owner’s responsibility to call Building Control out to inspect.
    • If there is a point on the schedule of works which states drainage should be agreed with Building Control, then this is an instruction to the contractor not Building Control. The Council said Building Control cannot police items within a specification of works. In Mr X’s case the Council said the contractor did not ask Building Control for advice before carrying out drainage works.
    • The drainage inspection in May 2019 was to see if there was a connection. The Council said it would only carry out a drains test at final inspection and it was Mr X’s contractor’s responsibility to carry out any pre-checks to drains before connecting to these.
  17. The Council provided its response to Mr X’s complaint on 11 December 2020. The Council said:
    • Mr X employed his own contractor and architect therefore the Council had no responsibility for instructing them.
    • It is the owner’s responsibility to contact Building Control to carry out inspections at the key stages. If the owner cannot do this then they should instruct their contractor to do so. In Mr X’s case Building Control were not called out by Mr X or his contractor at the key stages so the works were carried out with few inspections from Building Control.
    • The DFG team carried out their own viewing and Mr X signed documents confirming he was satisfied with the works and authorised the Council to pay his contractor.
    • It was expected that Mr X’s contractor had made the necessary investigations to ensure the correct drainage connections were made. If Mr X’s contractor was unsure of the existing drainage they should have contacted Building Control. The Council confirmed a drains test had not been completed as a final inspection was not called for or requested by Mr X’s contractor.
  18. Mr X remained dissatisfied and complained to the Ombudsman.

Analysis

  1. Mr X says the Council’s Building Control team did not inspect the works to convert the outbuilding into a wet room and did not carry out a drainage test. If it had done so, they may have realised the toilet in the wet room was not connected to a mains sewage system.
  2. I have not found the Council at fault for failing to properly inspect the works. It is Mr X’s responsibility or his contractor’s to ask Building Control to inspect the works at the key stages. In this case Mr X nor his contractor did this so much of the work was carried out without inspections from Building Control. Once the works had been completed Mr X’s contractor did not contact Building Control to ask for a final inspection. Primary responsibility for building work and compliance with the Regulations rests with building owners and builders.
  3. I recognise Building Control issued a partial certificate for the works, however this still identified outstanding works which needed to be completed and the inspection was not recorded as a final inspection. It was also requested by the DFG team prior to their signoff of the works. Once all the works were completed Mr X or his contractor should have informed Building Control so a final inspection could be carried out.
  4. Mr X also said the works specification showed that Building Control must agree the exact location of the new drainage. While the works specification does state this, the works are to be carried out by the contractor, not Building Control. It is therefore up to the contractor when carrying out this part of the works specification to contact Building Control if there are any issues with the drain location. From the evidence seen, Mr X’s contractor did not do this. Councils are not expected to act as a site manager or clerk of works, therefore I cannot say the Council is at fault for not agreeing the drainage location with the contractor when the contractor did not contact Building Control.
  5. In addition, the works specification stated that the Council is not a party to any contract between an applicant and contractor. It was Mr X who contracted the builders, not the Council, therefore there is a contract between Mr X and the builders. The works specification also stated approvals from Building Regulations are to be obtained by the contractor or customer, not the Council. I cannot say the Council is at fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and found the Council was not at fault for failing to properly monitor the quality of building works carried out at Mr X’s property.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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