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Rugby Borough Council (20 013 465)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 17 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X says the Council identified flaws in the construction of extensions at his home but then refused to take action to ensure the builder corrected the flaws. The complaint was closed because there was no fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. I refer to the complainant here as Mr X. Mr X says the Council identified flaws in the construction of extensions at his home but then refused to take action to ensure the builder corrected the flaws.
  2. Mr X says the Council is responsible for enforcing the building regulations but instead it chose to cherry-pick the regulations it would enforce. This is because it told the builder to repair the parts of the extensions it considered unsafe.
  3. Mr X is worried about the standard of construction. He says the builder did not act in accordance with the terms of the contract. Mr X cites examples of poor workmanship such as a floor that is not level and wrong material used under the floor.
  4. Mr X says he cannot bring his wife home from a nursing home because of the outstanding works.

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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. 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. I examined the complaint and background information provided by the Council and Mr X. I discussed matters with Mr X by telephone. I sent a draft decision statement to Mr X and the Council. I considered the comments of both parties on it.

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What I found

Guidance on building control

  1. Councils’ powers to control building safety are found in the Building Act 1984, the primary legislation under which the Building Regulations and other secondary legislation are made. The legislative framework of the 'Building Regulations' is principally made up of The Building Regulations 2010 and The Building (Approved Inspectors etc.) Regulations 2010.
  2. Councils may take action to protect the public if it considers a building or structure in its area to be unsafe. Councils may order works to improve defective, dangerous or dilapidated buildings or structures. If the building owner does not comply with the order, the Council may carry out the works and charge for its costs.
  3. Most building work, whether new, alterations, or extensions requires Building Regulation approval. The Regulations set standards for the design and construction of buildings and also ensure the health and safety of people in and about those buildings.  'Approved documents' give examples of how the Regulations can be met, but these examples do not have to be followed.

Building Regulations approval can usually be obtained in one of three ways:

  • 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 (not compliance with the approved plans). Decisions are made within 5 weeks, or 2 months with the applicant’s consent. 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.
  • Building notice application. This option is used for smaller works, like house extensions. Notice of commencement of building work is given at least 2 days before the work begins. The various stages of the work are then inspected and approved but no plans are checked. There is no formal approval by the Council at the end of the process, as there is with full plans applications.
  • Regularisation application. Compliance with Regulations can be certified after the work is done, but only by a Council Building Control service. Compliance with Regulations can be certified after the work is done, but only by a Council Building Control service.

Finding

  1. The Council inspected building works at Mr X’s home. Officers informed Mr X and his builder of certain areas where the builder could improve on the standard of work done. However, in terms of enforcement of building regulations, officers did not consider the works done made the building unsafe. In areas where they had concerns about safety they asked the builder to take remedial action. They issued a completion certificate when satisfied the works met the building regulations.
  2. Mr X, on the other hand, considers the Council should have asked the builder to correct all identified defects. Mr X says the Council should have done so because it is responsible for enforcing building regulations.
  3. I do not find fault by the Council. Councils should not be seen as a ‘guarantor of last resort’ when things go wrong and are not directly liable for poor or unlawful building work, because:
  • Primary responsibility for building work and compliance with the Regulations rests with building owners and builders.  If builders fail to comply with the Regulations, the Council can prosecute them. The Council can also insist the building owner pays for the costs of making the building safe.
  • When carrying out their building control functions, councils will normally visit at various stages, but they are not required to do so and will not be present for the majority of the project. Councils are not expected to act as a site manager or ‘clerk of works’. Individuals who want this level of supervision of their builder can employ their own site manager.
  1. A Council may inspect work or issue a completion certificate, but this is not a guarantee that all works meet with Building Regulations. The Council’s role is to maintain building standards for the public in general, rather than to protect the private interests of individuals
  2. The Council’s role is simply to satisfy itself that buildings are safe and compliant with the Regulations. It is the responsibility of the person commissioning the works to ensure the work is to the required standard. If work is sub-standard, individuals may be able to seek redress in the courts, if they can show their builder did not act with reasonable care or skill. 
  3. In this case, I am satisfied the Council’s approach to its building control function was reasonable and in accordance with government guidance on enforcement of the building regulations.

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Final decision

  1. I closed this complaint because I did not find fault by the Council in the matters raised here.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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