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Milton Keynes Council (20 003 043)

Category : Transport and highways > Street furniture and lighting

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 04 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council for not providing sufficient information about repairs to streetlights. The Ombudsman also finds fault with the Council for its complaint handling. The Council has agreed to apologise to the complainant and pay a financial remedy for his time and trouble. The Council has also agreed to provide regular updates to residents for repairs.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr Y, complains the Council has not addressed issues with ongoing faulty street lighting at various points in the community. Mr Y complains this is causing residents and users of the area to feel unsafe accessing amenities and services.
  2. Mr Y also complains about how the council handled his complaint.

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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 Mr Y’s complaint and the information he provided. I also discussed the complaint with Mr Y via telephone. I considered further information provided by the Council. I also considered Mr Y and the Council’s comments on a draft of my decision.

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What I found

What should have happened

  1. Councils do not have a legal duty to provide street lighting; however once provided, the local authority does have a duty to maintain the system in a safe condition. 

What happened

Supermarket lights

  1. In January 2019, Mr Y complained to the Council that lights in a supermarket carpark and entrance were not working.
  2. The Council investigated the supermarket lights; however, it says the investigation took some time because there was confusion about who was responsible for the roads and the lights. When the investigation ended, the Council accepted responsibility for maintaining the lights.
  3. The Council says repair works to the supermarket lights are underway, but that these are extensive and must be done whilst minimising disruption to the supermarket. The Council did not provide a timescale for the completion of the repairs.

Hospital street lights

  1. In February 2019, Mr Y complained to the Council that several streetlights at the entrance to his local hospital were not working. The Council carried out repairs to the hospital street lights.
  2. In April 2019 Mr Y complained again to the Council about the hospital street lights.
  3. The Council said that it completed repairs to the hospital streetlights in July 2019. However, the Council also says that a larger fault was identified with the hospital street lights which affected the lights initially complained about, and several others.
  4. Mr Y continued to complain about the hospital lights while the Council was dealing with his complaints.
  5. The Council did not start a further investigation into the hospital streetlights until October 2020, with repairs being agreed in November 2020. The Council did not provide a timescale for completing the repairs, or a reason for the delay in raising a further investigation.

High Street lights

  1. In his stage two complaint to the Council Mr X also complained that several lights were not working in an area of the local high street. The Council did not initially respond to Mr X about this part of his complaint.
  2. The Council investigated the lights on the high street. It found the lights could not be repaired and need to be replaced. The Council says the replacement lights will need to be approved by the Town Council. It did not give a timescale for when it expects this to be considered by the Town Council or how long replacing them could take once agreed.

Analysis

  1. The Council has said that it intends to repair all the lights that Mr Y has complained about. It says repairs are subject to investigations, design adjustments and allocation of resources. I accept these to be reasons why lights may continue to not work temporarily.
  2. The Council has not given Mr Y even approximate timescales for repairs to be completed on any of the lights identified. I accept the Council cannot provide exact timescales for the completion of repairs due to the nature of some of the works, additional decisions that need to be made, and of course the current impact of COVID-19. However, it is my current view that it is not acceptable for the Council to give no timescale at all, and therefore it could give updates and approximate timelines of events that affect the repairs.
  3. In its response to Mr X, the Council said “I understand this can be frustrating for residents when it appears nothing is being done and I can only apologise for this.  I know you have had other service requests not resolved within set times scales but please be assured we continue to work closely with our contractor on complex repairs to get them resolved with the resources available.” The Council identified that Mr X had not been provided with sufficient information and apologised for this. The explanations given by the Council would have seemed generic and immeasurable to Mr Y, giving him little reassurance that action was being taken. It is my view that this was fault by the Council causing injustice to Mr Y, as this caused him ongoing uncertainty.
  4. The Council also identified that it had received additional complaints about the lights at the hospital and the High Street, however, an assessment was completed, and the areas remain well lit. I uphold Mr Y’s complaint that he was not the only resident being impacted, but I am of the view that it has not caused significant injustice.
  5. The Council responded to Mr Y’s complaints within the timeframe set out in its complaint’s procedure, however it did not respond to all the issues raised in his stage two complaint. I therefore uphold Mr Y’s complaint about the Council’s complaint handling.

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Agreed action

  1. Within eight weeks of this decision the Council has agreed to:
    • Apologise to Mr Y and pay him £100 for the time spent pursuing this complaint and for the ongoing uncertainty caused by not providing sufficient information on repairs to the streetlights.
    • Provide estimated timescales for major events that occur as part of the work for repairs to be completed, allowing for possible external factors.
    • Explore a service improvement to communicate more clearly with complainants and other residents about events and milestones occurring for repair works.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and find fault with the Council for not providing sufficient information about repairs to streetlights. I also find fault with the Council for its complaint handling.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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