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The Ombudsman can examine complaints about the actions of a range of public bodies, including local authorities.
Local authorities are:
- county councils
- city councils
- borough councils and
- town councils.
The Ombudsman can examine complaints about how local authority staff carry out their everyday executive and administrative activities. These include complaints about delays or failing to take action.
However, the Ombudsman cannot examine:
- a decision to grant or refuse planning permission (see under Planning below) or
- decisions and activities called 'reserved functions'.
Only elected members of a local authority may carry out reserved functions. Examples of these functions include:
- striking a rate
- making or changing a development plan
- adopting a scheme of letting priorities and
- making or revoking bye-laws.
If you are not sure whether an action or a decision is an executive or reserved function, contact us and we can let you know.
The Ombudsman also cannot examine:
- actions or decisions that occurred more than 12 months before you complained (the Ombudsman may sometimes set aside this rule) or
- issues that are the subject of legal proceedings through the courts.
Is the Ombudsman independent?
Yes. The Ombudsman deals with all complaints independently and impartially when judging whether the action or decision of a local authority was fair and reasonable.
What can I complain to the Ombudsman about?
You can complain about any of the following:
- failure to provide Traveller accommodation and
- road maintenance
- traffic and
- rights of way.
- water supply
- sewage and
- handling planning applications
- planning enforcement and
- refuse collection and disposal
- waste management
- water quality management
- control of dogs
- coastal erosion and protection and
- fire and emergency services.
Recreation and amenity
- swimming pools
- parks and
Other areas of complaint
These might include:
- disposal of land
- provision of animal pounds
- the register of voters
- burial grounds and
- derelict sites.
What are the main areas of complaints about local authorities?
Most complaints to the Ombudsman about local authorities concern housing and planning, particularly the enforcement of planning decisions. (See also Housing and Planning below.)
How will the Ombudsman deal with my complaint?
Once we establish that we can examine your complaint, we will ask the local authority to send us a report. If necessary, the Ombudsman may also examine the files and records and may question people involved with the complaint. It can take time to gather the information that we need.
We will examine all the issues of maladministration. 'Maladministration' is defined in the Ombudsman Act 1980 as an action that was or might have been:
- taken without proper authority
- taken on irrelevant grounds
- the result of negligence or carelessness
- based on incorrect or incomplete information
- improperly discriminatory
- based on an undesirable administrative practice or
- otherwise contrary to fair or sound administration.
Based on these maladministration criteria, we will decide whether:
- your complaint is justified and
- you have suffered due to the action or decision of the local authority.
If we find that you have suffered due to maladministration, and if the local authority has not taken steps to remedy this, we may recommend it does so. In our recommendation, we may ask the local authority to:
- review what it has done
- change its decision or
- offer an appropriate remedy, including an explanation, an apology and/or financial compensation.
Can the Ombudsman examine a decision to grant or refuse planning permission?
If you are unhappy with the decision of a local authority to grant or refuse a planning permission, there are two options open to you.
- You may appeal it to An Bord Pleanála, an independent statutory body outside the Ombudsman's jurisdiction. Conditions and strict time limits apply.
- You may seek a judicial review in the courts. Time limits also apply and you may wish to consult a legal adviser.
What can the Ombudsman examine about planning?
The Ombudsman can examine the general running of the planning process, as outlined below, but cannot examine planning decisions made by the local authority or An Bord Pleanála.
New planning applications
The Ombudsman can examine complaints about:
- how the local authority handles new planning applications, for example whether it has given accurate information to the public about new planning applications it has received (or not received) and
- site notices, including content, location and legibility (whether they can be read).
Third party submissions
The Ombudsman can examine complaints about how the local authority deals with submissions and observations by those who want to object to or comment on a planning application. This includes examining whether the local authority informed objectors about the:
- outcome of a planning application and
- time limits for appeal.
The Ombudsman can examine complaints about the maintenance of planning files, including:
- how the local authority made planning applications or files available for inspection by the public and
- whether the local authority charged too much for copies of planning documents.
The Ombudsman can examine how the local authority responded to a complaint to it from a member of the public about an unauthorised development. This includes examining:
- whether or not the local authority responded appropriately and in line with the relevant law and guidelines and
- whether any decision or action taken by the local authority not to take enforcement action was reasonable.
Any decision or action taken by a local authority in relation to an unauthorised development which seeks to enforce planning law is known as enforcement.
Enforcement - Local authority powers and duties
Under the Planning & Development Act 2000 (the Act), local authorities have certain powers and obligations.
Local authorities must issue a 'warning letter' within six weeks of receiving a written complaint about an unauthorised development. However, this does not apply if it appears that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious or without substance, or the development is minor.
Local authorities must:
- investigate the alleged unauthorised development
- consider the complaint and any submissions made about it and
- make a decision as to whether to issue an 'enforcement notice'.
The objective is that the local authority makes its decision within 12 weeks of issuing the warning letter.
If the local authority decides to issue an enforcement notice, it must then serve that notice and tell the person making that complaint that it has done so.
Local authority chooses whether to take action
A local authority is not obliged by law to take action in every case. Under the Act, it can, having investigated a complaint, decide whether or not to take enforcement action in the case of a breach of planning legislation. If a complaint has been made to the Ombudsman about a decision by a local authority not to take enforcement action, her role is to assess whether the local authority acted reasonably.
Where do I go if I need general information or technical advice on a planning matter?
If you need general information, technical advice or guidance on a planning matter, you should contact your local authority or seek your own independent advice. Information and forms on the planning process are available from local authorities.
What can the Ombudsman examine about housing?
The Ombudsman can examine complaints from people:
- whose applications for housing have been refused and
- who are on the housing list and consider that the local authority has treated them unfairly by not allocating them a house.
Loans and grants
The Ombudsman can examine complaints from people who have applied for local authority housing loans or grants and consider that their applications have not been dealt with fairly. These loans and grants include:
- Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability
- Housing Aid for Older People and
- Mobility Aids Grant.
(These schemes replace a number of old schemes, such as the Improvement Works in Lieu (IWIL) Scheme, the Essential Repairs Grant and the Disabled Persons Grant.)
Transfers, rent, repairs and purchases
The Ombudsman can examine complaints made by local authority tenants where the local authority:
- has refused to grant a housing transfer
- has calculated rent incorrectly
- has delayed in carrying out repairs to a local authority dwelling or
- has not dealt correctly or fairly with an application to buy a local authority dwelling.
How is a house allocated by the local authority?
The local authority assesses each application for housing and, if accepted, the person is placed on the housing waiting list.
Each local authority has a 'Scheme of Letting Priorities' that it uses to decide how it will allocate houses and how it will deal with individual applications. Some local authorities, mainly those with growing urban populations, use a points system to decide housing priorities if the demand for housing is greater than the number of houses available. Applicants get points under various headings such as length of time on the waiting list, overcrowding or medical condition.
How does the Ombudsman deal with my complaint about the allocation of a house?
If you complain to us about a failure or delay in giving you a house, we will examine whether:
- the housing application has been dealt with according to the local authority's Scheme of Letting Priorities and, if appropriate
- you have been treated less favourably than other applicants in similar circumstances.
You cannot use the Ombudsman as a way to 'queue jump' and we will not make representations to a local authority on your behalf.