The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss X complained the Council destroyed her car without her consent and it caused her distress. The Council made a decision to destroy Miss X’s car because it failed to receive a response from her but her insurers did contact the Council on her behalf. The Council also destroyed Miss X’s car before it said it would. There was fault and the Council has agreed to remedy the injustice caused by making a payment of £250 to Miss X.
- The complainant, Miss X, complained the Council destroyed her car and left her out of pocket by £2900. She said the Council removed her car without notifying her and not knowing her car’s whereabouts caused her distress.
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’. 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)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I discussed the complaint with Miss X and considered the information she provided.
- I considered the information I received from the Council.
- Miss X and the Council were given the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision. I have considered Mrs X’s comments. The Council informed me it had no objections to my draft decision.
What I found
- Miss X’s car was vandalised on 18 February and the police and fire service attended. The Council received a report about the car on 19 February. The Council inspected the car that day and took photographs. The photographs show the car was completely burnt out. The Council immediately removed the car. The Council says the car was dangerous due to glass and toxins. In addition, the car was on a route to a school. The Council had to clean and resurface the road after it removed the car.
- The Council got Miss X’s name and address from the DVLA. It wrote to Miss X on 20 February asking her to get in touch. I have seen a copy of this letter; the Council used the correct address. The Council explained how Miss X could reclaim the car. The Council said it would dispose of the car if Miss X did not get in touch within 10 working days. Miss X says she did not receive this letter.
- The Council says it did not hear from Miss X until 10 March. The Council had destroyed the car on 1 March.
- Miss X has provided dates from her insurance company of when it contacted the Council about Miss X’s car. The insurance company contacted the Council on 21 February 2018 and spoke to a council officer about the car.
- Miss X complained to the Council on 10 March 2018. She complained that the Council removed and destroyed her car when her insurance company was dealing with it. The Council’s removal and destruction of the car had caused her stress and confusion about the whereabouts of the car. Miss X informed the Council not only was she a victim of crime but she was heavily pregnant and experiencing health difficulties. She said the stress of the situation was exacerbating her condition.
- The Council’s response dated 21 March 2018 said it had no knowledge of Miss X’s insurers contacting them to discuss the car.
- Miss X escalated her complaint to stage 2 of the Council’s complaints process. She was unhappy the Council had disposed of her car without her consent and that it was refusing to compensate her for the distress and anxiety caused.
- In its stage 2 response the Council again said that it could find no evidence that Miss X or her insurers contacted the Council and it made a decision on 1 March to dispose of her car due to a failure to receive a response. It did not uphold her complaint and refused to provide her with compensation.
- The photographs show the car was in a dangerous condition on a public road. The Council had no option but to remove it. The Council wrote to Miss X the next day and it used the correct address. I do not know if Miss X received this letter but there is nothing to suggest the Council did not send it.
- The Council said it destroyed the car as it received no contact from Miss X or her insurance company. The insurance company has provided evidence it contacted the Council two days after the car was uplifted and taken to a car pound. It also provided me with the name of the council officer they spoke to.
- The Council’s stage 1 response to Miss X’s complaint said it had no knowledge of the insurers contacting it to discuss the car. The Council’s stage 2 response after it investigated her complaint told her again that there was no evidence that her insurers had contacted it. However, in response to my enquiries, the Council confirmed the council officer whose name the insurers provided me with, did take a call in relation to Miss X’s car and no notes were attached to the case on the Council’s system. This is fault.
- The Council wrote to Miss X and advised her the car would be destroyed within ten working days. However, the Council destroyed her car on the seventh working day. This is fault. The Council says the parking contract runs six days a week therefore the car was destroyed on the ninth working day. The Council did not explain this in the letter and it is reasonable to infer the working week consists of five days. Nevertheless, the Council destroyed the car before it said it would. This is also fault.
- Miss X received some money from her insurers but said she had lost £2900 and she was left without a car. Miss X said the Council did not give her a chance to collect the car. Miss X wants at least £2900 in compensation from the Council.
- The Ombudsman does not recommend compensation payments. But whenever we find fault causing injustice, we look to remedy the injustice caused. We recommend token payments in recognition of avoidable distress and uncertainty.
- To remedy the injustice caused to Miss X, specifically the distress, time and trouble she spent on her complaint, the Council has agreed that within four weeks of this final decision, the Council will pay Miss X £250.
- There is fault by the Council and it has agreed to remedy the injustice by making a payment of £250 to Miss X. I have therefore completed my investigation of this complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman