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London Borough of Harrow (19 011 783)

Category : Transport and highways > Public transport

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 24 Jan 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council was at fault for sending a review letter to Ms B’s previous address, then cancelling her free travel pass when she did not respond to the letter. It has already accepted fault, and has reinstated the pass and apologised. It has also agreed to fully reimburse her for the unnecessary travel costs she incurred, and to make a payment to recognise the time she spent pursuing the matter.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Ms B, is partially-sighted. Because of this, she has a Freedom Pass, which is a travel pass for disabled people which allows free travel across London. The pass is issued by the Council.
  2. Ms B complains that the Council sent a review letter for her travel pass to the wrong address, and, when she did not respond, cancelled the pass.
  3. Ms B says the Council has admitted fault and has reinstated her pass. However, she complains that it has refused to fully reimburse her for the journeys she paid for during the time she would have had free travel if not for the Council’s error.

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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’. 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)
  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 considered information from Ms B and the Council. I wrote to Ms B and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Ms B’s Freedom Pass stopped working in June 2019. She contacted the Council, which directed her to the contractor it uses to issue travel passes. This contractor told Ms B that it had sent her a letter in March 2019, asking her to provide information for a review. However, it had sent the letter to her previous address.
  2. After Ms B reapplied for the pass – and following an exchange of correspondence with the Council – it was reinstated in early September 2019.
  3. Ms B complained that she was without her pass for over two months. She asked the Council to reimburse her travel costs for that period.
  4. The Council acknowledged that the contractor it uses to administer its travel passes had failed to check her address before sending the review letter, and therefore it accepted fault. It apologised and offered £50 as ‘a goodwill gesture’.
  5. Ms B was unhappy with this response, and said she had spent £376.30 on travel during the period that her free travel pass had been cancelled. She provided evidence of her travel costs up to that point.
  6. The Council increased its final offer to £250. Ms B did not accept the offer.
  7. Ms B says that, by the time her Freedom Pass arrived, she had spent £402.70 on travel. She wants the Council to reimburse her.

My findings

  1. The Council has accepted fault for sending Ms B’s review letter to the wrong address. As Ms B did not receive the letter, she could not respond, and therefore she cannot be held responsible for the Council’s decision to stop her travel pass.
  2. This means Ms B’s travel costs were incurred as a direct consequence of the Council’s error. Without the error, she would not have had to spend the money.
  3. Despite this, the Council has refused to fully reimburse her and has offered only £250 as a goodwill gesture.
  4. This is not acceptable, as it leaves Ms B financially responsible for a number of journeys which she should not have needed to pay for.
  5. The Council should fully reimburse Ms B, and should make a small additional payment to recognise that this matter could have been resolved much sooner if it had simply agreed to reimburse her straight away.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to pay Ms B £450 to recognise the money she spent on unnecessary travel costs, as well as the time she spent pursuing her complaint.
  2. This action should be completed within six weeks of the date of this decision.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was at fault for sending a review letter to Ms B’s previous address, then cancelling her free travel pass when she did not respond to the letter. The agreed action remedies her injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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