Damage to property or personal injury due to poorly maintained highways

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman about damage to their property (eg their car) or an injury they have suffered when using the roads or pavements.It also covers complaints about the failure to properly maintain highways whether or not an injury has occurred.

My car was damaged by a pothole in the road maintained by the Council / I tripped on an uneven paving stone and broke my glasses. Can the Ombudsman help me?

The Ombudsman will not normally investigate complaints about damage to property or injury to people arising from use of roads and pavements. This is because these complaints are really about whether the council has been negligent by not keeping a road in good condition.

The law places a duty on the council to maintain public highways. The council is expected to routinely monitor the state of the highways (for which it is responsible) and carry out repairs where necessary. But the level of maintenance, frequency of inspections and threshold for repairs is not set out in law and is open to interpretation

Negligence claims, and interpreting the law around road maintenance, are generally best decided by a court. Only a court can decide whether:

  • the problem should have been dealt with by the council before it caused you harm;
  • there were any steps you should have taken to avoid the harm; and
  • the council is liable to pay “damages” for the loss or injury you have suffered.

The council did consider my complaint but the investigation was badly handled. Can the Ombudsman investigate?

Not normally. This is because at the heart of your complaint is the negligence issue and we cannot normally investigate the council’s complaint handling process unless we are also looking at what your complaint is about.

Are all roads the council's responsibility?

No. Motorways and trunk roads are the responsibility of  Highways England, outside London. (Roads in London are the responsibility of the council in which they sit with the exception of ‘red routes’ which are the responsibility of Transport for London.) Complaints about Highways England are dealt with by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Other sources of information

If you do not have access to the internet, please call us and an adviser will locate your nearest office for these services.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please call 0300 061 0614.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

April 2021

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