General planning advice (complaints about)

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have received advice from the council about planning matters and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I asked the council if I could object to what was happening across the road. I was told that the works didn’t need planning permission. I don’t think this is right. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in certain circumstances. If following that incorrect advice led to your being caused significant problems then you can complain to us. 

But we are unlikely to investigate your complaint if it relates solely to private matters between you and your neighbour like a dispute about land ownership. Similarly the council normally has to treat discussions with applicants before an application is submitted as confidential.

We cannot usually consider a complaint which involves a planning application unless a decision has been made. This is because until then, even if a council has done something wrong, we do not know how it will affect you.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We look to see what has been the effect on you of following the advice and what would have been the outcome if you had been given the right information in the first place. Some of the faults we might find are that the council:

  • didn’t ask you for information which would have ensured you got a more accurate answer
  • did not have a system in place for ensuring that the advice it gave was properly recorded on its records
  • failed to make it clear that the advice being provided was informal, ie that it did not bind the council to make any particular decision in the future, or
  • wrongly told you that planning permission was not needed for the works next door so that you lost your opportunity to object to a planning application.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

Where it was at fault and you have suffered as a result, we can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right. Depending on what the complaint is about, we may ask the council to:

  • ensure proper procedures are in place to provide advice to the public. For example, we might ask the council to introduce a written checklist or form which ensures all the right questions are addressed at the outset
  • ensure that there is an agreed interpretation of the law so that the same advice is provided whichever member of staff answers the question
  • pay for the remedial works you had to take to reduce harm to you which arose because your neighbour was given the wrong advice, or
  • pay compensation for your time and trouble in making the complaint.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr R complained that the council told his neighbours that they didn’t need planning permission for their conservatory which overlooked his property. The council accepted that it was in error and that permission was needed but said, if an application had been made, permission would have been granted with a condition requiring obscure glazing to protect Mr R’s amenity. There were two possible ways of remedying the situation. Either the wall between the two properties could be raised or obscure glazing could be fitted in the overlooking windows. The neighbours agreed to insert obscure glazing in the windows which overlooked Mr R’s; this was paid for by the council. The council also paid Mr R £250 for his time and trouble in making the complaint.

Other sources of information

The Government’s gateway to planning information is at www.planningportal.gov.uk

Planning Aid’s website is at www.rtpi.org.uk/planningaid

Your local council’s website will contain information about some planning matters.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

July 2014 

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