The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms X complains the Council has wrongly taken highways enforcement action against her. On the evidence seen, the Council took enforcement action it agrees it should not have done. Ms X has suffered distress and had to pay to have a fence moved as well as to challenge the Council’s enforcement action. The Council has offered to pay Mrs X £10,000 in respect of her financial costs, distress, harm, time and trouble, and personal outrage. This is an appropriate remedy.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complains the Council has wrongly taken highways enforcement action about a boundary dispute against her and been bullied by Council officers.
- Ms X says she has had to pay to have a fence moved and to challenge the Council’s actions. Ms X is also unhappy because she says it has caused distress to her over a long period of time.
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 have spoken to Ms X about her complaint. I have considered the Council’s response to her complaint, its offer of financial remedy and the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies.
- Ms X and the Council were given the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision and these were considered before I reached my final decision.
What I found
- Ms X’s neighbours obtained planning permission for a new dwelling and divided their plot into two. The highways access for the new property was adjacent to Ms X’s home.
- The Council told Ms X that her fence was on the public highway and that she had to move it. Ms X did not agree but moved the fence and complained to the Council in June 2018.
- The Council responded to Ms X’s complaint and the Ms X asked the Council to escalate her complaint to stage two of its complaints procedure. The Council told Ms X the stage two complaint response was ready to be approved in October 2018.
- A site meeting between Ms X, her legal representative and the Council was held in November 2018. Ms X and the Council corresponded about her complaint into 2019.
- The Council responded to Ms X at stage two of its complaints procedure in July 2019. It said it would reopen the investigation into Ms X’s complaint. This review was carried out by an independent expert.
- In December 2019, the Council decided that there was not enough evidence to determine the position of the highway boundary and it should not take any enforcement action against Ms X. Ms X maintained her complaint that she had been bullied by the Council and had suffered financial loss.
- The Council considered Ms X’s complaint at stage three of its complaints process and agreed it had taken enforcement action incorrectly but did not find fault regarding the actions of the officers involved.
- After Ms X complained to the Ombudsman, the Council has met virtually with Ms X. The Council has written to Ms X, accepted fault, apologised and agreed, “the length of time the process took was far too long and you have explained very clearly that you feel officers did not respect you in their discussions and refused to listen to your point of view. This was clearly not acceptable.” I consider this to be fault by the Council. Ms X suffered distress and incurred financial costs as a result of the Council’s enforcement process.
- The Council has offered a financial remedy of £10,000 to Ms X, in respect of £6088.20 for her quantifiable financial loss, £1000 for her avoidable stress, £1000 for her distress, £1000 for the harm caused to her, £600 for her time and trouble and £300 for her personal outrage. Miss X says the Council’s offer is not sufficient. But I consider this to be an appropriate remedy and it is in line with the guidance the Ombudsman has issued.
- To remedy the injustice caused to Ms X, the Council has agreed to take the following action within four weeks of this final decision:
- Pay Ms X £10,000.
- I have found fault by the Council which caused injustice to Ms X. Following this investigation, the Council has suggested an appropriate remedy. I have therefore completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman