Complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)
The Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 was introduced in 2014 and significantly changed the way in which debts can be enforced by a bailiff/enforcement agent. The changes include the introduction of ‘fixed fees’ and improvements to the list of exempt goods. A further improvement is the introduction of statutory notices that must be provided to the debtor and the introduction of a ‘Compliance stage’ allowing a debtor the opportunity to avoid a bailiff visit (and fees of £235) by outlining a sensible payment proposal. It is hoped that these amendments will substantially reduce the number of complaints to the county court, the local authority and the Local Government Ombudsman.
Complaints that the Ombudsman can consider
If your complaint concerns the actions of the bailiff/enforcement officer in collecting council tax, NNDR or road traffic debts (parking etc) then the Ombudsman may be able to investigate the complaint.
Do I need to make a complaint to the local authority first?
Yes. The local authority must be given the opportunity to address any complaint first and if you are dissatisfied with their final decision you can request that the Ombudsman reconsider the response.
Only in exceptional cases will the Ombudsman consider a complaint that has not first been through the local authorities complaints procedure. In fact, since the new regulations took effect in 2014 the Ombudsman has rejected two-thirds of the complaints received for this very reason.
Can the Ombudsman refuse to consider a complaint?
Although the Ombudsman has a great deal of discretion, they will not normally investigate a complaint in cases where an ‘independent right of appeal’ already exists.
For example; with a parking charge notice (PCN) a ‘right of appeal’ against the issue of the PCN exists either through the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (PATAS), the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT) and in specific circumstances, through the Traffic Enforcement Centre. With council tax, a ‘right of appeal’ against liability exists through the Valuation Tribunal. There are also rights of appeal to the County Court court about the actions of a bailiff, and the Ombudsman may feel it is appropriate in the circumstances that you use these.
What decision can the Ombudsman make about the complaint?
Final decisions from the Ombudsman are categorised as follows:
Upheld: This is where the LGO find fault with the local authority.
Not upheld: This is where after making enquiries the LGO did not find the Local Authority at fault.
Closed after initial enquiries: This category is the most common one and is normally where the matter is not in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction (perhaps because of an alternative ‘right of appeal’ as outlined above); there is not enough evidence of fault or injustice to justify the costs of an investigation, or for some other reason.
Are Ombudsman’s decisions made public?
Yes. Since 1st April 2013 the LGO publishes decision statements on all complaints received. The information will not name the complainant. Decision statements are published 3 months after the date of the final decision and can be viewed under the Digest of Cases section of the LGO website here.
Viewing previous Decision statements can be very helpful in deciding whether or not a complaint is suitable to take to the Ombudsman.
Note from Bailiff Advice:
If you are considering making a formal complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman and wish to discuss whether or not this is the correct procedure, please feel free to contact us.