Taking the council to court

Hello

We recently had our house re-painted in 2020. In 2021, a builder started the demolishing of a house and building of flats opposite us. We asked them to keep the dust down to a minimum but they did not so.

After multiple complaints to the council we found they were not taking matters seriously. The builders would regularly block access to our driveway, empty materials in the street and pollute the area. It seems that the remit of traffic enforcement, building regulations and environmental health are the responsibility of the council and we have documented instances where the council have been negligent in upholding this.

As a result, I'd like to take the council to court and feel that I will have a better chance than against the builder as I have a contract with the council as a ratepayer.

I was planning to open a claim on Money Claim Online, but it says:

NOTE: You cannot make a claim against a government department (including HM Revenue and Customs) using Money Claim Online

Does anyone know if a council is a 'government department'? I don't want to spend money on a claim to find out its not eligible. And if it is a government department, how can I get a claim allocated to the small claims track? 

Many thanks

Sam
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Comments

  • What are you looking to claim?
  • Voyager2002
    Voyager2002 Posts: 15,226
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    Legal action against a public body such as a Council is going to be horribly expensive and take years. They have a legal department; you do not.

    Rather, you should seek assistance from the Local Government Ombudsman.


  • I agree if you want to pursue to the council then the ombudsman is the way to go - but you need to exhaust the council's complaint process first (you can request a copy of their complaints process and check you are complaining to the right department). 

    Some questions if I may: 

    1. What are you actually claiming for (what's the basis of your complaint)? 
    2. What remedy are you seeking?
    3. How are you quantifying/qualifying your actual losses or compensation calculation? 
    4. What documentation do you have to prove your complaint? 

    I know that sounds like a lot, but your OP is slightly woolly so it might be helpful to have us spot any gaps in your evidence/weaknesses in your approach. 
    I'm not an early bird or a night owl; I’m some form of permanently exhausted pigeon.
  • sn1994
    sn1994 Posts: 20
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    What are you looking to claim?
    In 2020, I spent £9k to re-paint the house, chimney stacks and scaffolding to get up there.
    The front of the house is in need of a re-paint as a result of the building dust. I think it would cost around £4-5k to re-paint the front.

    1. What are you actually claiming for (what's the basis of your complaint)? 

    That they have allowed the builder to demolish and construct a building against building regulation acts and environmental act.

    2. What remedy are you seeking?

    Re-painting of front of house or money to get this done. 

    3. How are you quantifying/qualifying your actual losses or compensation calculation? 

    Quotation from the same or another painter with estimates (3 quotes)

    4. What documentation do you have to prove your complaint? 

    Initially outlined concerns to builder and council before works started. They said not to worry.
    Dust became an issue and they claimed it was sahara dust. Strangely that only settled on front side of house and not on back.
    Wrote to council who performed site inspection several months after the report. They said in the event of an issue contact the pollution team. Pollution team would take 4-5 months to respond to emails and photos and local MP also said unacceptable. Damage done by the time they investigate.

    Builder wrote to us stating that there is adequate fence and they used a ring fence. The ring fence has big holes and lets dust through and they did not hoard off the building during demolition. Other neighbours also experienced same problem.

    Reported this to council again and builder later said that no fencing was needed at all for demolition of a building. Have this in writing.

    Later, builder blocks access to driveway and my registered disabled father cannot get to pharmacy. Video recorded this and builder said I know it's illegal but what can you do about it? Council website say that traffic enforcement is a council matter so contacted the councillor with this video evidence. They did not respond to it for four months. 

    I asked council what action they had taken re traffic enforcement and they said it is a police matter. Police say that it is a council matter to enforce traffic.

    As the council are letting these builders block drives, dump waste (with video evidence) and the builder state that they don't need fencing to demolish buildings, I think the council have been negligent and not upheld their contractual side which is to enforce traffic; building and environmental regulations. I'm worried the builder will simply say that they are not responsible for the dust. But I can prove that the council haven't been doing their job on numerous occasions..

    I then sent a formal complaint and letter before action to council. No response received after a month and now I wish to take it to court.

    Cheers
  • If you’ve sent a letter before action you’re going to have to go through the court and actually take the action. 

    Can you prove the dust was a result of the builders? Why can’t the dust be cleaned off? Why does it need to be repainted? Have you got quotes to clean the dust? 

    Also as others have said, the claim against the council is hard to meet. If the council approved the work for the demolition they may have strong evidence in why it was required. If the building was dangerous, and a private company was paying for it to be demolished, that outweighs the possible ‘damage’ to you. The claim for the parking is also unlikely to succeed. 

    Fundamentally, the question a court will ask is did the council do enough to minimise disruption to local residents? Unfortunately building work does have disruption locally - but did the council (and builders) do enough to minimise the disruption. They could’ve done this by informing local residents of the building work, issuing permits to only work in social hours, and asking for the work to be completed in a timely manner. 

    As for the blocking of the property - how long was this for? What was the context? It’s a different case if a skip collector was blocking the drive for 20 minutes whilst it loaded vs Gary the Gaffer blocking it with his van all day every day. The former is generally accepted as the minimising disruption clause; the latter probably isn’t. Your case will probably be in the grey zone. 

    If you want to take to court, then do it. But I think it should be against the builders (or the people that employed them); and the claims have to be factually supported (you can’t claim £2500 for ‘inconvenience’ without quantifying how you were damaged to this amount). Additionally, you need to show the claims have been minimised - for example power washing is cheaper than repainting so why can’t the house be power washed. In either case, it’s a long battle and it’s going to be up to you if it’s worth it or not. 
  • the_lunatic_is_in_my_head
    the_lunatic_is_in_my_head Posts: 7,335
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    edited 28 November 2023 at 8:44PM
    As above search the council website for the complaints procedure, if they don't offer anything the ombudsman might award a small sum if they feel you've been treated unfairly. 

    If (can't say if they have or not) the council have breached any legal obligations they may have I'm not really sure that means you would have a claim, presumably there is some kind of government process to deal with councils failing their legal obligations.

    I think it would be that your claim is to chase with the builder. 

    If it's dust, won't it just wash off?
    I think it depends really, our house is white and looks dirty after a year or so of being painted, the sap from the trees gets blown over it and then everything just sticks. Living in North Wales, if rain simply cleaned a house ours would be sparkling :) 
  • Okell
    Okell Posts: 620
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    edited 29 November 2023 at 12:20AM
    sn1994 said:
    What are you looking to claim?
    In 2020, I spent £9k to re-paint the house, chimney stacks and scaffolding to get up there.
    The front of the house is in need of a re-paint as a result of the building dust. I think it would cost around £4-5k to re-paint the front...

    2020 was three years ago.  I doubt that the fact that a house opposite you was demolished the following year and that some dust from the demolition has settled on your paintwork gives you legal cause to sue anybody.  Especially not the council.

    Why does the presence of "dust" require the front of the property to be repainted anyway?  Doesn't it wash off in rain?  Are you saying the paint still wasn't dry the following year?  And how are you going to prove it was "dust" from the demolition that has caused your problem rather than Sahara sand?

    (I'm impressed you managed to get your house repainted at all in 2020...)

    sn1994 said:


    ... 1. What are you actually claiming for (what's the basis of your complaint)? 

    That they have allowed the builder to demolish and construct a building against building regulation acts and environmental act...

    So are you saying that the builder hasn't complied with building and/or planning regulations and is also in breach of environmental protection legislation?

    Have you actually made a formal complaint to the council and followed their complaints procedure?  If you have and you have got nowhere, you should be complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman.  Your chances, frankly,  of suing the council successfully after the damage has been done are not good.

    Make a complaint - Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

    sn1994 said:


    ... Later, builder blocks access to driveway and my registered disabled father cannot get to pharmacy. Video recorded this and builder said I know it's illegal but what can you do about it? Council website say that traffic enforcement is a council matter so contacted the councillor with this video evidence. They did not respond to it for four months. 

    I asked council what action they had taken re traffic enforcement and they said it is a police matter. Police say that it is a council matter to enforce traffic...

    Did you complain to the police at the time and explain clearly what the problem was?  My understanding is that if anybody prevents you accessing the highway from your property (by eg blocking your drive) that is a criminal offence enforceable by the police, and not a simple decriminalised traffic offence enforced the council.  If you explained the problem clearly and the police told you it was for the council to sort out and not the police, then you should make a formal complaint to the police.

    But apart form making formal complaints, I don't think you have much chance of successfully suing the council in court.
  • sn1994
    sn1994 Posts: 20
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    edited 29 November 2023 at 10:34AM
    If it's dust, won't it just wash off?
    MikeJXE said:
    I'm glad I don't live near you 
    That's charming. My Mum worked (NHS Nurse) through lockdown. She doesn't strike. She doesn't falter. 

    She won nurse of the year. She led a vaccination clinic. She has an OBE. 

    [Info removed by Forum Team]

    She saved up during Covid to repaint the house. 

    Went to work every day during Covid and she came back in tears every day because she lost more and more colleagues during this time. 

    She spends 3 hours a day back and forth travelling to different sites. 

    She spends money getting her house painted and it's destroyed by an arrogant builder and a negligent council. 

    Mum and Dad are getting old and I'm trying to do my best restoring the house getting it back to what it was and keep it comfortable for them. 

    It's not dust -- a karcher won't bloody well touch it. Trust me -- I've tried. 

    I've advised her to write to the papers. We have photos of the house how it was before and how it is now, and it's terrible. She just wants her house the way it was and is in tears.

    I'll pay for it to be restored of course, but I'm !!!!!! off that this happened. 
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