A Barnet street food trader has been left significantly out of pocket after the council wrongly instructed its nuisance vehicle enforcement company to destroy his pizza van when it was reported abandoned, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
The council made no attempt to get in touch with the owner when they visited the van – despite the trailer being emblazoned with his mobile phone number, email and website address.
The trailer, which was in good condition, also displayed the registration plate of the man’s vehicle, which was insured and taxed, yet no attempt was made to contact him via the DVLA, or his email or phone number.
They towed away the trailer. And instead of storing it, council officers ordered the trailer’s immediate destruction.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found London Borough of Barnet at fault for not following the law, government guidance and its own policy when instructing its vehicle enforcement company to classify the trailer as ‘abandoned’. It also found fault with the council’s decision to instruct the vehicle enforcement company to tow away and destroy the trailer.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“The council missed numerous opportunities to get hold of the owner. Instead it ordered the trailer to be towed away and immediately destroyed, contrary to all guidance available.
“I welcome Barnet council’s readiness to accept my recommendations to improve its services to people in the borough.
“I hope other councils can learn from the mistakes made in this situation and examine their own policies and procedures to see what lessons they can take away”.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to pay the owner a sum of money to buy a trailer of a similar age, quality and fittings of the one it had wrongly destroyed.
It will also apologise to the man and pay him £500 for the distress and uncertainty caused by the loss of his trailer.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to train its staff to remind them of the relevant law and guidance and policies when making decisions about abandoned vehicles. It has also agreed to review its policy as set out on its website to clarify its duty to try to locate vehicle owners.
Article date: 05 August 2019