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Government watchdog reportedly favours council in £500,000 Age UK dispute

Government watchdog reportedly favours council in £500,000 Age UK dispute
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Government watchdog reportedly favours council in £500,000 Age UK dispute1

Finance | Jonathan Last | 13 Jun 2012

The local government ombudsman has provisionally sided with Watford Borough Council in its quarrel with Age UK Hertfordshire over a £500,000 repairs bill for two buildings, according to reports.

Age UK Hertfordshire had approached the ombudsman to settle a dispute over the defamation of its reputation, and now the Watford Observer reports that the watchdog has said it found no case for maladministration against the council – whilst stressing that its decision can still be challenged.

The local government ombudsman itself told civilsociety.co.uk that it had no official comment to make on the matter, and that it could be two or three months of further investigations before it has an official statement to release.

Neither Age UK Hertfordshire nor Watford Borough Council would comment on the matter until the ombudsman’s investigation has been completed.

Damaged reputation

The saga started with Watford Borough Council issuing two £250,000 bills for properties which Age UK began occupying in 2006.

When the charity left one of the properties in 2009, it was issued with an invoice for dilapidations by the council. This prompted an inspection of the other building, which resulted in a further £250,000 repair bill.

Age UK disputed the bills and reached an agreement with the Council in February 2011. The charges were wiped, aside from what chief executive Marion Birch described at the time as “a confidential, small settlement figure".

But subsequent comments in the local press by members of the council led the charity to claim its reputation had been damaged, and so it sought the intervention of the ombudsman.

Anne Seex
Local Government Ombudsman
19 Jun 2012

The verve of your writing makes for exciting reading in your report about Age UK Hertfordshire and Watford Borough Council. Unfortunately it may also lead to misunderstandings about the role of the Local Government Ombudsman. Whilst it would be wrong for me to comment on the particular complaint I would like to inform your readers about our work.

In investigating complaints about local authorities we look to see whether there have been faults that have caused an injustice. We do not arbitrate in ‘quarrels’. Our decisions are based on our independent and impartial assessment of the particular facts and circumstances of a complaint. In making a decision we do not ‘side’ with either party.

A civil society organisation can complain to us if they believe faults in the actions of a council have caused them an injustice. Further information is available on our website ( see www.lgo.org.uk/making-a-complaint/) and we have a special Fact Sheet on complaints about Compacts (see www.lgo.org.uk/publications/fact-sheets/complaints-about-compacts-councils-csos/).


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