Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 29 Mar 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about how the Council has dealt with reports of damage to a grass verge close to his home. An investigation is unlikely to find fault with the Council and Mr X has not been caused significant personal injustice.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, is unhappy with how the Council has dealt with his concerns about damage to a grass verge close to his home. The Council has said it will now concrete over the grass verge. Mr X is unhappy because he says it will be unattractive and pose a risk to pedestrians.
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 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
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered Mr X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and his correspondence with the Council. I gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and considered his response.
What I found
- Mr X complained to the Council about the condition of a grass verge close to his home. He explained parked cars and vehicles delivering to a local shop had damaged it. The Council twice instructed contractors to carry out works to the verge. In its responses to Mr X’s complaints, the Council accepted its second contractor had not carried out the work requested. The Council could not say why. It said that because there was continuing damage to the grass verge, it had decided to replace it with concrete.
- In deciding whether to investigate a complaint, we need to consider if the Ombudsman is likely to find fault with the way the Council has acted. We also need to consider if the alleged fault has caused significant personal injustice to the person complaining. We will only investigate if these tests have been met.
- The Council has already tried to repair the verge – but this was unsuccessful. This is because cars park on the verge and delivery vehicles drive over it. The Council has therefore decided to replace the verge with concrete. Because the verge is on the public highway, and the Council has responsibility for maintaining it, this is a decision the Council was entitled to take.
- While Mr X disagrees with the Council’s decision, this is not evidence of fault. The Ombudsman cannot question the merits of a council’s decision unless there is evidence of fault in how the decision was reached. The Council has decided that replacing the grass verge with concrete is the best use of its resources. Based on the evidence available, I do not think an investigation would be likely to find fault with the Council’s decision.
- Mr X says that a concrete verge will be less attractive. He says that cars parking on the concrete will pose a risk to pedestrians and could block his drive. But the area in question is on the public highway. I am not satisfied that replacing it with concrete will cause Mr X significant personal injustice. There are no double yellow lines in place and cars already park on the grass verge. While Mr X is concerned about what might happen, we cannot investigate complaints based on speculative injustice. This is not therefore a matter for the Ombudsman.
- Mr X has also raised concerns about how the Council has dealt with his complaints. But the Ombudsman will not normally investigate a council’s complaints handling if we are not going to look at the matter which led to the original complaint. This applies here.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because an investigation is unlikely to find fault with the Council and Mr X has not been caused significant personal injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman