A Luton woman was verbally abused and harassed by her neighbours – and her local council did not do enough when she called on it to help, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
The woman, who lives alone in her privately-owned home, is vulnerable because of her age and chronic medical conditions, which affect both her physical and mental health. She has logged concerns about antisocial behaviour (ASB) and harassment from her next-door neighbours since 2012, after she initially reported them to the council for causing a nuisance by feeding vermin.
The council and police gave the neighbours a warning, but since then the woman claims she has been subject to verbal abuse and derogatory comments about her mental health and received threats to harm her. She has also had false accusations made against her.
The woman made numerous complaints about her neighbours, but the council’s Priority ASB team closed her case. A council investigation into her complaint wrongly directed her to the Housing Ombudsman, which can only investigate complaints from social housing tenants or leaseholders.
The woman eventually complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after her MP became involved. During the Ombudsman’s investigation, the council reviewed her case, recommended mediation and asked her to send further evidence for a case review meeting.
Under the 2014 Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, people can request a review of their ASB complaint by the council, police and other agencies under something called the Community Tigger. The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council did not tell the woman about her right to use the Community Trigger, despite her repeatedly expressing her dissatisfaction with the council’s investigation. Instead the manager of the Priority ASB team was asked to review the case.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“Neighbourhood antisocial behaviour can be incredibly distressing for those experiencing it – and can lead to people feeling vulnerable in the one place they should expect to feel safe. So I am concerned Luton Borough Council is not publicising properly people’s right to have their ASB cases reviewed under the Community Trigger.
“I hope that by reminding officers of these powers, others in the Luton area will have a greater chance of having their issues resolved.”
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 should pay the woman £250 to recognise the distress, inconvenience and uncertainty it caused.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will consider what steps it needs to take to promote and publicise the Community Trigger to ensure greater public awareness. It should also issue a reminder to officers that they should always consider whether it is appropriate to use wider ASB powers when they receive complaints.
It should also remind officers who investigate complaints at the final stage of its complaints procedure that people who are not council tenants or leaseholders cannot complain to the Housing Ombudsman. As a result of this investigation the LGSCO has also amended its published information to make this process clearer.
Article date: 11 November 2021