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Write to your MP and the Local Government Ombudsman

If the local authority does not take up the issue

If the local authority responds by saying it does not intend to treat the issue as a priority or to do anything at all, and you are convinced that the breach is serious, you could write to your local MP about your concerns.

You could also call on your MP to support CPRE's call for stronger laws on enforcement of planning controls.

The Local Government Ombudsman

A final option is to write to the Local Government Ombudsman. You should use this option only when you have completed all the previous steps, although it's not essential to have written to your MP first.

The vast majority of complaints (83% in 2004/5, according to the Ombudsman's annual report) were dismissed before the Ombudsman got as far as issuing a report.

Again, you need to be convinced that the breach is serious.

You also need to show that the local authority is guilty of 'maladministration'.

This could mean, for example, that there was no proper response or investigation of your issue or that no action was taken after a promise of action was made in writing.

What the Local Government Ombudsman does

The local Government Ombudsman investigates complaints under the administrative aegis of the Commission for Local Administration, created by Part III of the Local Government Act 1974.

The Ombudsman service is an independent organisation and individual ombudsmen are appointed by the Queen.

Its role is to investigate complaints by members of the public over the action of a number of public authorities, such as National Parks authorities, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads authority and local authority joint boards (but not parish councils).

The Local Government Ombudsman is one of the few safeguards available to address procedural abuse by local authorities without going through formal judicial process.

It can be a useful avenue to pursue if you feel that campaigning effectiveness has been compromised by 'maladministration,' that is, by a fault in the way the authority has done something or through any omissions or oversight by the authority, for example when taking planning decisions.

Valid complaints

Complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman must relate to the decision-making process, the ombudsman cannot question the outcome of a decision if it is properly made.

For example, you could complain to the Ombudsman if the local authority failed to publicise receipt of a planning application, but not over the granting of planning permission because you disagree with the decision.

Examples of maladministration

  • Taking too long to reach a decision
  • Giving the wrong information
  • Not following it's own rules, or the laws
  • Breaking formal commitments or promises
  • Treating you unfairly
  • Not following correct decision-making process

The Ombudsman will only investigate a complaint if s/he considers that you have suffered sufficient injustice to justify it, such as

  • suffering distress
  • losing money
  • having your quality of life reduced.

How to complain

The Ombudsman will only deal with the complaints that have been formally raised with the authority you are complaining about.

The first step, therefore, is to use the authority's own complaints procedure.

Details of this should be available from the authority concerned, either from the department you are dealing with or from the chief executive's office.

It is probably advantageous, if not strictly necessary, to have also contacted your local councillors about the complaint.

If you are not satisfied with the authority's answer to your complaint, or if you do not receive a satisfactory answer within a reasonable time, you can then take it up with the ombudsman for your area.

There are three Local Government Ombudsmen for England, each covering a different part of the country.

One of the ombudsman's requirements is that complaints should be made within 12 months of you first being aware of the subject of your complaint.

The ombudsman often rejects complaints made after 12 months, although he or she is able to accept a complaint made later if there is a very good reason for the delay.

It is worth making your complaint within this time, therefore, even if you are still pursuing other channels.

Make clear your reasons for doing this in your complaint.

Complaints must be in writing and should include

  • Your name, address and telephone number
  • The name of the local authority you are complaining about
  • What you think the authority did wrong, or what it did not do which it should have done
  • How you have been affected by the authority's actions and what injustice you have suffered
  • What you think the authority should do to put things right

Since the ombudsman has strict rules about whether or not he or she investigates a case, you also need to cover:

  • The date you first found out about the matter you are complaining about. If is more than 12 months ago, you need to give very good reason why you did not contact the ombudsman sooner
  • Whether you have complained to the authority concerned. If so, you need to give the name of the person you complained to, the date of the complaint, whether the complaint was in writing, and whether you received a reply. If you have a reply you should send it along with your complaint to the ombudsman
  • Whether you have taken the matter up with a councillor. If so, you need to give the name of the councillor and the date on which you wrote
  • The easiest way to complain is to use the official ombudsman complaint form, as this sets out all the points you need to cover. The completed form needs to be accompanied by any document to support your case.

The ombudsman will inform you whether he or she can investigate your case. If so, and the authority is found to be at fault, the ombudsman will recommend what the authority should do in order to put things right and ensure that similar problems do not arise in the future.