The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complains about the Council’s decision not to proceed with her vehicle crossover (dropped kerb) which it had previously approved in June 2017. She says the Council has retrospectively imposed a time limit to the approval. We find fault with the Council and have made recommendations.
- Mrs X complains about the Council’s decision not to proceed with her vehicle crossover (dropped kerb) which it had previously approved in June 2017. She says the Council has retrospectively imposed a time limit to the approval.
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)
- 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)
- 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 spoke with Mrs X and considered the information she provided.
- I considered the information provided by the Council.
- I sent a draft decision to Mrs X and the Council and considered their comments.
What I found
The Ombudsman’s principles of good administrative practice
- This guidance sets out the standards we expect from local authorities when we investigate their actions. There are six core principles.
- Principle two is around being service-user focused. It notes that councils should inform service users about what they can expect and what the organisation expects of them. An example of good practice is setting expectations for service users by having and communicating appropriate guidance.
- Mrs X applied for a vehicle crossover (a dropped kerb) in May 2017.
- The Council approved her application in June 2017. The Council sent Mrs X a letter setting out its approval and the next steps.
- The letter told Mrs X that if she wanted to proceed, she should complete works to remove her wall and to reconstruct her paved driveway (hardstanding works). The Council asked Mrs X to tell the Council when she had completed this work. The Council would then inspect the site and send her the documents to arrange payment for the construction of the vehicle crossover.
- The letter also included an estimated quote for the cost of building the vehicle crossover and stated the quote was valid for three months from the date of the letter.
- The letter did not state that approval for the vehicle crossover would lapse after a certain period. The letter also did not give any information on time limits to start work on the vehicle crossover.
- In September 2018, the Council sent Mrs X an email, reattaching the letter first sent in June 2017. The Council asked Mrs X to let it know when she had completed the hardstanding works so it could send her a final estimate and payment forms.
- In August 2020, Mrs X asked the Council to proceed with the vehicle crossing works. Mrs X explained she did not proceed earlier as she had not been able to meet the cost of the works previously.
- The Council declined to proceed and told her there was a time limit on vehicle crossover applications. The Council said it could not now approve an application because the depth of her garden did not meet the Council’s new policy, introduced in April 2019.
- The Council provided us with a copy of its vehicle crossover application guidance note that was in place when Mrs X first applied. The guidance note does not state there is any time limit for the construction of the crossover once approval has been granted. The guidance also does not mention any time limit for the approval for the vehicle crossing.
- The guidance does state the estimated and actual cost of constructing a crossing is based on the Council’s contractor’s schedule of rates current at the time. It notes they remain valid for a period of three months.
- There is no evidence the Council had any published policy or guidance in place that establish timescales for completion of vehicle crossovers. There is also no evidence the Council had put in place a time limit for how long approvals for vehicle crossovers remained valid for.
- Therefore, the Council is at fault for retrospectively applying a time limit to Mrs X’s approval for a vehicle crossover.
- Further, our principles of good administrative practice highlights that it is good practice for councils to set expectation for service users by communicating appropriate guidance and to tell service users about what they can expect.
- Therefore, it would have been good practice for the Council to have told Mrs X of any time limits regarding her vehicle crossover application. There is no evidence the Council did this. This further suggests the Council did not have any established time limits.
- It is also noted the Council had emailed Mrs X in September 2018 telling her how to proceed with the vehicle crossover. This email was sent a year after the application was initially approved.
- Again, if the Council had time limits in place for how long approvals for vehicle crossovers remained valid for, the Council would have, on balance, told Mrs X of them when it emailed her in September 2018. This again supports the view that the Council did not have any time limits in place for how long approvals remained valid for, or any time limits for when to complete the works.
- I consider the fault identified caused Mrs X an injustice. This is because the Council had given Mrs X permission to create the vehicle crossover but has now retrospectively applied a time limit to her application. This has prevented her from pursuing the vehicle crossover.
- To remedy the injustice caused by the fault identified, the Council has agreed to complete the following:
- Apologise to Mrs X for retrospectively imposing a time limit to her approval for her vehicle crossover application.
- Allow Mrs X to proceed with the vehicle crossover. If the Council wishes to set a time limit for the completion of these works, the Council should clearly set out the timescales to Mrs X.
- Review its policy and guidance to ensure any time limits or validity period for approvals for vehicle crossovers are clearly set out. The Council should also review its approval letters to ensure any time limits are clearly communicated to applicants.
- Write to others who would have been affected by the fault identified, within the last 12 months, inviting them to raise a complaint about the matter to the Council if they wish. The Council should enclose a copy of this decision in its letter.
- I find fault with the Council for retrospectively applying a time limit to Mrs X’s approval for her application for a vehicle crossover. If the Council agrees to my recommendations, I shall be satisfied and will complete my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman