Sevenoaks District Council (21 004 024)

Category : Transport and highways > COVID-19

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 08 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained about the Council’s decision not to issue a refund on her car park season ticket for the COVID-19 lockdown periods between November 2020 and April 2021. The Ombudsman has discontinued his investigation because the Council has now agreed to offer Ms X a partial refund and we cannot achieve more.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complained about the Council’s decision not to issue a refund on her car park season ticket for the COVID-19 lockdown periods between November 2020 and April 2021.
  2. Ms X paid £1,300 up front for her car park season ticket. She could not go to work during the lockdown periods and so could not travel to use the car park.

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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 can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
  3. 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”.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have considered the following:
    • The complaint and the documents provided by the complainant.
    • Documents provided by the Council and its comments in response to my enquiries.
  2. Ms X and the Council now have an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I will consider their comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Ms X bought a season ticket to park her car in a Council-owned car park. She was not permitted to travel to work during COVID-19 lockdown periods and therefore did not use the season ticket.
  1. Ms X contacted the Council during the first COVID-19 lockdown, which ran from March to June 2020. The Council gave Ms X a refund for the period she could not use the car park while Government rules prevented her from working.
  2. Ms X renewed her car park season ticket towards the end of 2020. She said the Council did not give any advice or information about what would happen if the Government imposed another COVID-19 lockdown. Ms X said if the Council told her up front that she would not receive a refund again she would have weighed up whether it was worthwhile to buy a season ticket. She considers the Council set a precedent by giving refunds for the first lockdown.
  3. The Government imposed further COVID-19 lockdowns in November and December 2020. Non-essential shops reopened in April 2021.
  4. Ms X contacted the Council in March 2021 to ask for a refund on her season ticket again. This time the Council refused.
  5. Ms X complained, but the Council would not change its decision.
  6. Ms X brought her complaint to the Ombudsman on 21 June 2021.

Response to enquiries

  1. The Council told me it had reviewed its actions and believes it should have given Ms X a partial refund. It will now do so.

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  1. The Council accepts it should have given Ms X a partial refund and has offered to do so.
  2. The Ombudsman considers this to be a suitable remedy for any injustice caused. We cannot achieve more, and I have discontinued my investigation on that basis.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued my investigation because the Council agreed to offer Ms X a partial refund and the Ombudsman cannot achieve more.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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