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Hedgeline interim advice on
Dealing with councils on Matters of Fees
Keep copies of all letters and complaints forms (high hedges complaints form, personal complaint, and ombudsmans.)
Please make sure that on your High Hedges Complaints Form (near the mention of the fee) that you write in bold letters the following:
"I am paying this fee in order to facilitate my complaint but on the basis that if, at a later date, the Ombudsman should rule your fee is too high, I shall expect reimbursement of the difference"Please note also that if "non refundable" is stated anywhere on the complaints form at that point write the following on the form:
"Whilst I accept the fee reflects the cost of the whole procedure under Part 8, I do not accept that should reject my complaint, I am not entitled to reimbursement of part of my fee to reflect the little work you did carry out."
Paragraph 4.48 of the Government Guidance Notes for local authorities states, 'If a council reject a complaint because it does not meet the requirements set out in this Chapter and so falls outside the scope of the Act, they should inform the complainant as soon as possible and explain the reasons for the decision. The council should also return any fee'.
Should your complaint be rejected and you feel you have no means of changing their ruling, write to your council reminding them that the fee they charged was supposed to cover all costs from start to finish of the implementation of Part 8 High Hedges. Make the point that their stopping the proceedings at such an early stage would suggest that your fee has not been fully used and that therefore you require reimbursement of part of the fee to reflect this.
We would suggest that refusal of this request to return part of your fee may make you decide to go to the Small Claims Court to test this before a Judge. This would be your decision. We have no idea how the matter would turn out.
If, however, you cannot afford the fee then we would ask you to do the following:
Write to your council try to use their own complaints form (as this will have to be documented for Government statistics) along the lines of Model letter A
After ten working days, you can contact the Ombudsman Advice Line on 0845 602 1983 or download a complaints form from the internet: http://www.lgo.org.uk/contact.htm
In the meantime we are working on targeting one of the highest fee-charging with one of the poorer members in that area, who we will assist to write to council and then to Ombudsman. We are collating statistics to forward to the Ombudsman along with the complaint in the hope that we will get this office to adjudicate overall on the fee and the concessions being offered by councils. (Few are offering any and with one or two welcome exceptions the few being offered are mainly very limited)
We are asking you all to complain to the Ombudsman, if appropriate to you, but not to harass the him on your individual complaints. Please wait patiently for his decision on our test complaint, which we hope will encompass all our individual complaints. This may take several months.
If the Ombudsman does adjudicate with lower fees/concessions you can then write to your council quoting this and paying the amount set down by the Ombudsman. It would be a brave council who defied the Ombudsman at this point, as you will complain to the Ombudsman and he has the powers to give you compensation up to 50000 (!). He may well decide to give you compensation to send a message to any other councils thinking of defying him. See Model letter B
Contact Details (Phone/Fax/email
Or Chief Executive
Complaint of Maladministration by Council in implementing Anti Social Behavior Act 2003 Part 8 High Hedges
I have just received your Complaints Form under the above Act, together with notification that your fee for dealing with my complaint will be £650.00.
I cannot afford this fee and, therefore, feel that you are denying me access to justice. This denial of access to justice by reason of cost is not consistent with most of the Laws of this land. I enclose an outline of my income and regular expenditure, in support of my belief that I cannot afford your £650.00 charge.
I would request that, in the circumstances, you agree to accept a reduced fee for dealing with my complaint. I am willing, if required, to forward proof of the attached income and expenditure figures once you have answered me specifying the reduced fee which you would be willing to receive from me on the basis of my financial position.
I would ask that you reply within ten working days stating whether you will reconsider your fee in the light of my financial position. Failing this, I would ask that you send me a fully itemised breakdown of the costing which led you to decide on this fee so that I may then pass this letter and your reply to the Local Authority Ombudsman and ask him to adjudicate.
I do feel that as you have recently worked out this fee, it should be straightforward for you to provide me with the figures and so please would you send your reply within ten working days. In the unlikely event that I do not receive a prompt answer, I will have to contact the Ombudsman immediately and mention the further unnecessary delay in the complaints system which is my sole opportunity to reclaim the enjoyment of my garden. I will send this letter recorded delivery/hand deliver it to the Council offices (taking note of name of person who takes it from you at reception) on the date of this letter.
Please send a courtesy copy to your local MP - for information only, at this stage.
Contact Details (Phone/Fax/email
Complaint of Maladministration by council in implementing Anti Social Behavior Act 2003 Part 8 High Hedges
My local authority (council Name and Address) informed me that the fee for complaining under the above Act will be X
I cannot afford this fee and, therefore, wrote to the council , giving a summary of my income, to show why I cannot not afford it. See attached copy letter.
The council then failed to write back to me within the requested ten working days time limit. I feel that this delay is unreasonable under the circumstances and could well be an attempt to delay the complaints system.* It (then) wrote to me enclosing the attached figures to substantiate this fee. (Alter this paragraph appropriately to fit the councils response. Miss out sentence* if not appropriate..
I cannot afford this fee and feel I am being denied access to justice. I know it has been suggested that councils must balance the ratepayers views against that of the small minority of people involved in hedge problems, but would argue that this is a scenario that could affect anyone, and if the law is seen to fall into disrepute (through the high fees being charged) that a minority problem now could finish up even more monstrous in the future and affect a lot more ratepayers.
Compiled by Dot
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