The Local Government Ombudsman investigates complaints against local councils of "Maladministration Causing An Injustice".

To use their service, you must have first exhausted the council's internal complaints procedures. My experience with complaining to my local council is that it is a pointless waste of time. The response I got was a long letter attempting to justify their mistakes, and simply restating the facts as I had referred to them in my complaint. I recommend you go through the internal complaints procedure as quickly as possible so you can get your unresolved issues to the Ombudsman for investigation.

Note that the Ombudsman may not investigate a complaint where there is a more appropriate body to deal with it, eg. a right of appeal to a tribunal or other court action. Once an appeal or court action is underway, the Ombudsman will not investigate at least until that action has ended.

The Ombudsman provides a useful route to seek redress against your council which otherwise would be extremely difficult or impossible to do using the court system.

The first step in any complaint is to identify Maladministration on the part of the council. For example, the Ombudsman can look at complaints about the council:

  • - taking too long to do something,
  • - not following its own rules or the law,
  • - giving you wrong information or bad advice, or
  • - not following the correct procedures when making a decision.

You must make your complaint within 12 months of the maladministration occurring.

The maladministration that gave rise to your complaint must also have affected you in more than just a trivial way, and have caused you problems as a result. This is the Injustice you have suffered as the result of the maladministration.

For the Ombudsman to investigate your complaint, both Maladministration and resulting Injustice must be present.

The Ombudsman has the same powers as the High Court to obtain information from the council. If the Ombudsman finds in your favour they can ask the council to put things right. This means the council may be asked to:

  • - apologise to you,
  • - make a payment,
  • - reimburse costs or losses you may have been caused,
  • - provide a service you should have had,
  • - do repairs to your council home,
  • - take action or make a decision that it should have done before,
  • - reconsider a decision that it did not make properly in the first place.

The Ombudsman produces a leaflet which outlines how their service works.

A complaint can be made by telephone or by using their online form.

Summary of Ombudsman Decisions

This is a summary of key decisions made by the Ombudsman since 2005 in the areas of Benefits and Council Tax. A full list of decisions can be found on the Ombudsman website.

Stoke-on-Trent Council (11-016-154)
The Council undertook further investigation into a benefit claim after its decision, and an appeal, had been made which was contrary to Ombudsman guidance. The Council also had no debt recovery policy in place to deal with the collection of arrears.

Torbay Council (10-002-564)
The Council failed to "purposefully explore" a disabled persons health conditions with the result that bankruptcy procedings were initiated against him. The Council were aware from comments made by their own bailiffs that the person "could be suicidal" yet continued with their course of action regardless. This was an unusual case because the Ombudsman had to issue a second report criticising the Council for failing to follow the recommendations of their first report.

London Borough of Haringey (07/A/04966)
The Council was guilty of maladministration by failing to take proper regard of evidence provided by a tenants landlord that she was violent and any housing benefit should be paid to him, not her. The Council had paid the housing benefit to the tenant, who had not used it to pay her rent to the landlord.

Northampton Borough Council (04/B/10719)
The Council's Housing Benefit section gave incorrect information to their Rent Income section about a council tenant, who was evicted and was unable to be re-housed with the council rendering him homeless. The tenant's possessions were accidentally destroyed whilst in storage with the council, which failed to inform the tenant in a timely manner so that he could make an insurance claim for his loss.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council (03/A/14278)
The Council failed to ensure there was adequate liaison between two of its departments regarding a mentally disabled tenant, who had extended stays in hospital. The council also failed to establish a "responsible person" who they could communicate with whilst he was in hospital.

London Borough of Havering (08-005-922)
The Council was guilty of maladministration by letting out a property which was not in a lettable condition. As a result, the tenant could not move into the property for two months until the gas supply was repaired. As he was not living at the property, a Housing Benefit overpayment arose. The Council declined to settle the complaint at an early stage in the investigation. In addition to the compensation awarded to the tenant, the Council's staff received training from the Ombudsman.

London Borough of Newham (09-003-325)
The Council gave a tenant incorrect advice about local housing allowance which resulted in rent arrears.

Luton Borough Council (07/B/10865)
The Council evicted a tenant for rent arrears whilst an appeal against her housing benefit decision was live.

London Borough of Waltham Forest (05/A/05092)
The Council failed to liaise effectively between the Benefits section and a local housing association. The housing association failed to suspend rent recovery action whilst the housing benefit claim was being processed. The Council also failed to deal properly with the tenants complaint.

London Borough of Brent (05/A/17099)
The Ombudsman criticised the Council's attitude to recovering debts from vulnerable people. In this case the Council incorrectly awarded a person an empty property discount and, when their mistake was discovered, attempted recovery proceedings against the taxpayer for the council tax arrears.

Nottingham City Council (04/C/18012)
The Council exhibited "compound failures" in dealing with a homeless family. Rent arrears accumulated as a result of the Council's own maladministration which prevented them from rehousing the tenant in a council house.

Northampton Borough Council (05-B-16773)
The Ombudsman highlighted serious failings in the Council's administration of housing and council tax benefit. The Council had delayed excessively in processing benefit claims and appeals, and had pursued collection of rent arrears whilst live appeals were in outstanding.

London Borough of Brent (05/A/18870)
The Council failed to properly deal with a tenants benefit claim for over two years with the result that council tax arrears accumulated. The Council arranged for bailiffs to contact the tenant with a view to collecting the arrears.

Kirklees Metropolitan Council (05/C/04684)
The Council failed to adapt a property for a physically disabled tenant with the result that she could not move in for 8 months. As she wasn't living at the property she could not claim housing benefit, and rent arrears accumulated. The Council took possession action to recover the property.

Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council (05/C/03367)
The Ombudsman found the Council's stance to be "inexplicable" regarding their "duty ... not to fetter their exercise of discretion". The Council refused to accept that they could not have a "blanket policy" regarding council tax discounts.

London Borough of Ealing (06/A/15371)
The Council lost its appeal against a housing benefit decision, and failed to put the claim into payment for 10 months.

Manchester City Council (07/B/10432)
The Council pursued a council tax debt through the bankruptcy court. However, its policy in relation to council tax recovery was non-existent, and its procedures for warning the taxpayer about the bankruptcy were deficient. The Ombudsman issued a further report when the Council failed to pay the compensation recommended.

Exeter City Council (08-002-300)
The Council pursued council tax arrears over a number of years without making adequate enquiries into the debtors health problems. The Council failed to have any adequate written procedures regarding standard checks into a debtors health problems. The Council had made the taxpayer bankrupt without giving proper consideration to her vulnerability.

Slough Borough Council (10-007-469)
The Council's bailiff's seized a doormat whilst unable to gain access to a debtors house to recover a debt. They charged excessive fees for doing this. The Ombudsman found there was maladministration, but no injustice, in this case as the Council cancelled the excessive fees. However, this report was issued as it was considered to be in the public interest.