Wiltshire Council (19 019 448)

Category : Transport and highways > Highway repair and maintenance

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 27 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about financial losses he claims were caused by repairs to the public highway close to his business. This is because any dispute about liability for financial loss is a matter for the courts.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains repairs to the public highway caused a loss of custom to his business. Mr X wants the Council to pay compensation.

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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’. 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 there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered Mr X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information he provided. I also gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on his complaint.

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What I found

  1. Mr X operates a business. He says that repairs to the public highway and temporary traffic arrangements meant customers could not access his business. Mr X says the signage was poor and the diversion was too long. Mr X wants the Council to pay compensation.
  2. The Council has responded to complaints from Mr X. In its final response it said that:
    • The closure had been advertised in the local paper with the highest circulation figures.
    • Signs were erected in advance of, and during the works, although there was a short delay in erecting ‘business as usual signs’.
    • Comments from the public were in line with those received for similar closures elsewhere.
    • Diversions are an inevitable consequence of roadworks and there is no facility to compensate for loss of trade.
    • The Council had not acted negligently.
  3. The role of the Ombudsman is to look for administrative fault. But disputes over negligence, and the liability and merits of claims for financial loss are a matter for the courts. The Ombudsman cannot determine who is liable for Mr X’s losses in law. It is therefore reasonable for Mr X to make a claim through the courts if he considers the Council has acted unlawfully and if its actions have affected him financially. An investigation by the Ombudsman is not therefore appropriate.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because any dispute about liability for financial loss is a matter for the courts.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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