Scarborough Borough Council (20 007 459)

Category : Transport and highways > COVID-19

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 11 Dec 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s decision not to offer a discount on its summer mooring fees. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr X, complains the Council has declined to offer a discount on its summer mooring fees despite the fact he could not use his berth due to restrictions in place to deal with COVID-19.

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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/care provider 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
  • 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
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

(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 and the Council’s responses. I shared my draft decision with Mr X and considered his comments.

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What I found

  1. In summer Mr X moors his boat at a marina owned and run by the Council. Over winter he pays a company to lift and store his boat out of the water.
  2. The Council charges mooring fees which provide boat owners with a space in the marina; the fees cover the period from 1 April to 31 October. There is no discount for any period the boat is away from the marina, whether this is for one night or several weeks/months.
  3. In March 2020 the Government announced a national lockdown to tackle COVID-19 which restricted all but essential travel. As a result of the lockdown Mr X could not travel to collect his boat from storage and could not launch it into the water to take up his berth at the marina. He therefore paid the storage company more than £500 extra to store his boat until the lockdown ended.
  4. Mr X is unhappy the Council has not offered a discount on its summer mooring fees to account for the period he could not use his berth at the marina. He suggests his contract with the Council became “frustrated” by his inability to take up the berth and that it should not charge for April or May 2020. The Council disputes the legal basis for this claim and has insisted Mr X must pay in full.
  5. It is not for us to rule on the enforceability of Mr X’s contract with the Council or to resolve any related legal disputes. The courts are better placed to deal with such matters.
  6. We can only consider whether the Council was at fault and I have seen no evidence to suggest it was. The Council did not prevent Mr X from launching his boat and its actions did not cause his additional storage fees; these are the result of Mr X’s inability to travel to collect and sail his boat to the marina during the national lockdown. The Council kept a space for him under their contract and it is under no obligation to discount its fees.
  7. Mr X refers to the Council’s decision to refund fees for beach chalets and believes this situation is comparable, but the Council is entitled to take a different approach to the two services and its decision to refund beach chalet users does not cause Mr X injustice.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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