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South Lakeland District Council (20 003 308)

Category : Planning > COVID-19

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 13 Oct 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council refused to visit him during the Covid-19 lockdown to inspect damage to his property caused by building work next door. We will not investigate this complaint because it is unlikely we would find fault by the Council that led to the injustice Mr X claims. Damage is a private matter to be taken up with the developer, and our involvement could not achieve a meaningful outcome.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council refused to visit him during the Covid-19 lockdown to inspect damage to his property caused by building work next door. Mr X says the damage was due to the developers breaching planning permission. Mr X says he was also injured when his skylight fell down due to the works.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. This complaint involves events that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a range of new and frequently updated rules and guidance during this time. We can consider whether the council followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Good Administrative Practice during the response to Covid-19”.
  2. 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 further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

  1. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided when he complained to us.
  2. I considered information the Council provided.
  3. I gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. In May 2020, Mr X told the Council building work at a neighbouring flat had damaged his property, a listed building, by breaking through his ceiling and walls. He reported further damage in June, and in August when his skylight fell causing injury to his son.
  2. Mr X told the Council he believed the developer had breached planning control by not carrying out the works in line with the planning permission and listed building consent. For example, he said he believed beams had been installed in a party wall without planning permission, and holes had been made in ceilings and walls connected to his property without explanation.
  3. Mr X asked the Council to visit to inspect the damage caused. The Council told Mr X it would not visit his property, because its view was this could not take place in line with the government’s guidance during the Covid-19 lockdown. It explained it was satisfied in this case that it could assess the extent of the damage from pictures Mr X had provided. Mr X offered to vacate the property for a Council officer to visit, but the Council declined this.
  4. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. The Council considered whether it was necessary to visit and decided not to, because it decided it was able to assess the damage based on the photographs.
  5. The Council investigated the breaches of planning control Mr X had reported by considering the photographs he had provided and liaising with the developer. It concluded there was no damage done to the fabric of the building that would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest, and it decided not to take any enforcement action for this reason. It explained damage to party walls and personal injury were not relevant planning matters and they were a separate, private legal matter between Mr X and the developer.
  6. Mr X wants the Council to repair the damage and pay him compensation. However, the Council is not responsible for damage and personal injury caused by a developer, and we could not make the recommendations Mr X seeks. Damage and personal injury are not relevant planning matters, and Mr X does not indicate any impact upon him of the alleged breaches that would be relevant in planning terms. We could not achieve the outcome Mr X seeks, and it is unlikely further investigation would lead to a different, more meaningful outcome for Mr X.
  7. The Council says the developer has offered to repair the damage and has confirmed to the Council what work they will carry out, but Mr X has not allowed them access to do so. It is open to Mr X to contact his insurer, and ultimately to consider legal action against the developer for the damage to property and personal injury if he believes this is appropriate. Mr X’s insurers, and ultimately the courts, are best placed to consider this complaint.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault that led to the injustice Mr X claims. Damage is a private matter to be taken up with the developer, and our involvement could not achieve a meaningful outcome.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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