The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the Council’s failure to respond to her pre-application planning enquiry. This is because the Council has provided a suitable remedy for the complaint.
- The complainant, Mrs X, complains the Council failed to respond to her pre-application planning enquiry. As a result she submitted a full planning application which the Council refused. Mrs X would like the Council to refund the cost of the application and provide compensation for her time and trouble.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we are satisfied with the actions a council has taken or proposes to take. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(7), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I reviewed Mrs X’s complaint and the Council’s response. I shared my draft decision with Mrs X and considered her comments.
What I found
- Mrs X applied to the Council for pre-application planning advice in August 2019 and paid the Council £160 for this. The Council’s website said at the time it would respond within 28 days but she did not receive a substantive response. After several months she decided she could not wait any longer and applied to the Council for planning permission for her proposal. She also complained about the Council’s failure to respond to her enquiry.
- The Council considered Mrs X’s application but decided the proposal was not acceptable. It accepted it had not responded to her pre-application enquiry and agreed to refund the £160 fee, but it declined to refund the £518 fee she paid for the Council to determine her planning application. Mrs X therefore referred her complaint to the Ombudsman.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. The Council’s offer to refund Mrs X’s pre-application advice fee provides a suitable remedy for Mrs X and it is unlikely we would recommend anything further. It was Mrs X’s choice to submit her application prior to receiving the Council’s response to her complaint or its advice and the application fee covered the Council’s costs in determining the application; it would not therefore be appropriate to recommend it refunds this.
- Mrs X is also unhappy with the way the Council dealt with her complaint. But it is not a good use of public resources to look at the Council’s complaints handling if we are not going to look at the substantive issue complained about. We will not therefore investigate this issue separately.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because the Council has provided a suitable remedy for the complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman