London Borough of Barnet (18 007 039)

Category : Transport and highways > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 12 Nov 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms D complains the Council failed to keep her street clean. The Ombudsman has found evidence of fault by the Council, in particular it made promises to Ms D that it was unable to keep about cleaning schedules. The Ombudsman has upheld the complaint and completed the investigation because the Council agrees to act including paying redress to Ms D.

The complaint

  1. The complainant (whom I refer to as Ms D) says the Council has failed to clean and maintain the area around her street for several years. She states it assured her work would be done and did not follow through.

What I have investigated

  1. I have looked at events from March 2017 onwards.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. He 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, he may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have spoken to Ms D and considered the information she provided. I made enquiries of the Council and carefully examined its response.
  2. I have shared my draft decision with both parties.

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What I found

  1. In March, April, May and July 2017 Ms D logged reports with the Council about rubbish and debris on the street where she lives. Each time the reports were closed by the Council because a road crew had attended. The Council has no further evidence about what cleaning was done on the street for the entirety of this investigation period because it does not retain those logs.
  2. On 19 September Ms D complained to the Council about the state of the street and grassed areas. She understood litter should be cleared every two weeks and this was not happening. At times, there was so much debris should could barely walk along the pavement. The Council sent a stage one complaint reply on 13 October. It upheld the complaint and apologised for the service it had provided to Ms D. It said it had arranged for litter picks at the area “once a week and we aim to cleanse every two weeks”. It would also carry out a deep clean on 16 October. There are no records to show if the deep clean took place.
  3. On 15 November Ms D emailed the Council stating no cleaning had taken place or litter picking. The Council replied on 20 November asking if Ms D would meet an Operations Manager on site to discuss the problems. I understand Ms D subsequently met the Officer but there is no note of the meeting.
  4. On 30 January 2018 Ms D again emailed the Council. She said at her last contact with Officers in November 2017 she was told a team would be put together to carry out a deep clean and then regular cleaning of the street but nothing had happened. On 8 February Ms D chased up the Council. The Council told her it had 30 working days to respond to a stage two complaint.
  5. I understand a Council Officer spoke with Transport for London (TFL) on 21 February 2018 and agreed which authority was responsible for cleaning the area. The Council had a duty to pick litter and sweep pavements. TFL is responsible for cutting grass verges and clearing litter from the road. There is no note of the call.
  6. On 13 March Ms D chased up the Council for its stage two complaint reply. It sent this later the same day. It upheld the complaint and apologised “that promises previously made have not been met”. It said an Officer had met TFL in February to arrange a joint clean of the area. In addition, a plan was agreed to keep the area “at an acceptable level of cleanliness”. Once the plan was agreed the Council would send Ms D a copy, probably within the next two months. The Council also said that it would attend the area every two to three weeks to do litter picks.
  7. In May Ms D contacted the Council stating the cleaning was still not being done. On 16 May the Council emailed back that due to “operational issues” it had not possible to do litter picks every two to three weeks. It said, “this issue has been resolved and scheduled litter picks will resume”.

What should have happened

  1. The Council says that it usually carries out scheduled litter picks every six weeks. It is currently doing litter picks every four weeks for Ms D’s area.
  2. When the Council receives a report from a resident about litter/ debris on a pavement it will log the report onto its system. The case is referred to an Area Supervisor who has to inspect within three working days. If there is debris or fly tipping the Council will arrange to have this cleared. The Area Supervisor can also request a deep clean of the site.
  3. The Council says that it only retains records of scheduled cleans for two weeks.

Was there fault by the Council

  1. There is evidence of fault by the Council.
  2. I consider the Council has handled Ms D’s case very poorly. It failed to keep records, gave undertakings it could not achieve and failed to monitor whether action had been taken. In addition, its formal complaint replies were inaccurate.
  3. In its stage one response the Council told Ms D it would do a weekly litter pick and a fortnightly clean along with a scheduled deep clean. In the stage two complaint reply the Council stated it would carry out litter picks every two to three weeks. There is no evidence or explanation from the Council as to how these cleaning schedules were arrived at. It is my view the Council made promises to Ms D without checking whether they were achievable in the first instance. The Council could and should have been clear about what level of service it was able to provide before making an undertaking to Ms D. Even in May the Council was still telling Ms D that it would resume cleans every two to three weeks when this was not happening.
  4. The Council’s stage two response also refers to an Officer meeting with TFL when in fact there was only an undocumented telephone call. The complaint letter also told Ms D the Council was preparing a written plan for keeping the area clean when that was not the case. At no point did the Council contact Ms D to correct this statement. The Council says the Officer writing to Ms D has “misunderstood”. That is not an acceptable level of service.
  5. The Council says it only keep records of scheduled cleans for two weeks. It does not explain why this is its policy. I consider it fault by the Council to not keep records for cleaning and litter picks to Ms D’s street after she made her stage one complaint. Given the Council upheld her complaint I would have expected it to retain records and verify what remedial action was being taken: it failed to do so. This lack of records also makes it impossible for me to verify what level of cleaning was taking place during 2017 and 2018. I cannot say with any certainty how often cleaning happened or whether it was effective.
  6. In respect of the cleaning schedule currently in place I do not find the Council at fault. It will usually clean every six weeks but says it is attending the area near Ms D every four weeks which is better than the required level of service. That said I do address how the Council should check whether the cleaning is taking place below.

Did the fault cause an injustice

  1. The Council’s poor handling of this case meant it unreasonably raised Ms D’s expectations about the service she would receive. Ms D has been left frustrated at the lack of progress and has had to pursue her case to the Ombudsman.

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Agreed action

  1. I asked the Council to consider:
    • Paying Ms D £100 for the time and trouble incurred as a result of its handling of the case and send her a letter of apology within four weeks of this case being completed;
    • Ensure logs of cleans and litter picks for Ms D’s street are retained for at least six months in case the Council needs to prove what works has been done;
    • Have a Senior Officer check the records every month to ensure the cleaning schedule is being adhered to;
    • Carry out monthly inspections (ideally within a week of scheduled cleans) and document the findings and whether any remedial action is needed;
    • Share the details of the first two monthly inspections with the Ombudsman to verify action is being carried through.
  2. The Council has accepted the recommended actions.

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Final decision

  1. I have upheld the complaint and completed the investigation.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I have not looked at events prior to March 2017. The Ombudsman cannot investigate late complaints unless he decides there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to the Ombudsman about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D)

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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