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Age UK disappointed at ombudsman's decision in row with Watford Borough Council
4:04pm Tuesday 11th September 2012 in News
A charity has expressed its disappointment at a watchdog’s decision to clear Watford Borough Council of wrongdoing in a row over a £500,000 repairs bill.
Age UK Hertfordshire has said it is surprised that the Local Government Ombudsman did not take legal and documentary evidence it provided for its investigation into the spat with the council.
Last month the ombudsman cleared the council of maladministration in the dispute that arose over a repair bill for two borough-owned buildings from which the charity operated.
Age UK Hertfordshire has also protested over its treatment during the investigation by the watchdog.
Marion Birch, the chief executive of the charity, said it was still to receive the formal findings from the ombudsman.
She said: "We were never interviewed or asked for further information by the LGO and initially we only found out about their final decision because it was sent to us by the Watford Observer.
"It has been an extremely difficult time for Age UK Hertfordshire as our integrity has been questioned which we feared may damage our reputation."
The argument was sparked over Harebreaks and Exchange Road buildings, which the charity used from 2006, when the council presented Age UK Hertfordshire for repair bill of close to £500,000 for them.
The dispute spilled into the public domain and the charity claimed it was defamed when council cabinet member, Councillor Iain Sharpe , attacked it in the letters page of the Watford Observer.
Age UK and the council eventually managed to come to an agreement for a much-reduced bill of around £30,000 and the charity is still a tenant in the Exchange Road building.
However the bitter saga has dragged on and the charity took the council to ombudsman over the affair.
Last month the ombudsman cleared the council of wrongdoing and also said it had a right to defend its actions. Following the decision Ms Birch said she was disappointed with the Ombudsman’s decision, but said she hoped the saga had not damaged the charity’s standing in the eyes of the residents.
She said: "All we have been guilty of is naivety as we believed that the written assurances that we had been given about the properties would be honoured. "Our charity agreed to take over the provision of Meals on Wheels on behalf of the Council and then received a demand for £250,000 for property dilapidations on that building where there was no apparent lease.
"Unfortunately cooking and delivering meals to vulnerable older people and running a lunch club does not generate that level of income."
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