Pensioner wins repairs bill fight with ‘bully-boy’ council

The council has been ordered to apologise to Bruce Thompson. Picture: Julie Bull
The council has been ordered to apologise to Bruce Thompson. Picture: Julie Bull
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A PENSIONER has scored a victory in his battle over a disputed statutory repairs bill – after the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) agreed that council officials failed to explain why a charge had ballooned by 30 per cent.

Comely Bank resident Bruce Thompson complained to the Ombudsman after he and his neighbours were asked to pay just over £87,000 – around £22,000 higher than the original quote – without being given a breakdown of how the additional cost was generated.

Officials told Mr Thompson, 70, that they could not provide an itemised invoice, insisting reasons for the increase were communicated in a number of letters sent to him. But the Ombudsman disagreed and said it was “entirely reasonable” to expect a “clear” breakdown for work carried out.

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Investigators have also recommended steps be taken to ensure mechanisms are in place so they can “accurately itemise and communicate” project costs in line with official guidance.

And they ordered the council to reinstate an offer to waive an administration fee of nearly £1200, which was made and then withdrawn after Mr Thompson persisted in querying the bill.

It is understood city bosses are likely to lodge an appeal against the Ombudsman’s decision. The original statutory notice for works at Comely Bank Place was issued in 2007 – before the entire system was suspended in 2011.

This was amid claims that bribes had been offered by contractors, and of cosy relationships between firms and council officials.

No charges were ever brought in the department, but a number of homeowners complained about overbilling, as well as unnecessary and poor quality work.

In an official report on Mr Thompson’s case, the Ombudsman said: “Given the amounts involved, and the fact that work is being carried out on people’s property, I consider it entirely reasonable for property owners to expect a clear breakdown of what they have been charged for.

“The council failed to provide a breakdown of costs in line with [official guidance] or the reasonable expectations of the property owners.

“It should be a source of concern to them that they were unable to show the costs associated with the works they had ordered or to account for the 30 per cent increase in costs.”

Mr Thompson said he was “elated” at the ruling and described the council’s conduct as “brutal”.

He said: “We’ve been fighting this for about four years now – it’s been going on for a long time.

“The council have used bully-boy tactics. Their argument is that Deloitte said they had to put the extra cost on and they’re going purely on what Deloitte say.

“But Deloitte have been unable to justify it, the council has been unable to justify it, and there’s no reason why we should pay £22,000 when nobody knows what it’s for.”

A city council spokeswoman said: “The council is currently considering an appeal against the SPSO’s ruling.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com