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.
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.