Case study 12: Woman given CPN for ‘overgrown’ garden in Waltham Forest

(Statement by CPN recipient) ‘A sofa was flytipped into my front garden, and during the time it took for the council to collect it, a complaint about my front garden was lodged. I got an ‘Advice’ letter saying that the council was satisfied that my behaviour was unreasonable, and requiring me to remove the bulk waste and also cut back overgrown vegetation in both my front and back gardens. The sofa went before the expiry of the time limit set, and though I couldn’t see anything I considered ‘overgrown’ in my front garden, I cut back a bit and hoped for the best.

I was completely thrown to then get a CPW stating that the required action had not been taken, and giving another 21 days before I would be issued with a CPN, with mention of ‘criminal offence’. I panicked, because there was nothing else that I could think could be counted as ‘waste’. I had no idea what vegetation in my gardens was causing a problem, but I felt guilty without knowing what I was guilty of, and scared of the word ‘criminal’ and started cutting down plants and breaking up objects that I was attached to.

Then I realised that something was wrong here, and emailed the Authorising Officer, asking him to specify which items were causing a problem, and what the problem was in each case, and to revise his statement that my behaviour was unreasonable, stressing that I would do my very best to comply once I knew was required. He replied demanding that I meet him at the house within 10 days, when he would explain the requirements, and if I did not do so, he would have no alternative but to take further action. I replied that I would prefer to have the requirements in writing so I would have a written record and could get advice on it if necessary. He wrote that he believed the Warning letter explained the requirements clearly.

I repeated my requests that he be specific which items were affected, and the precise way each was having a detrimental effect on anyone, and he explain his grounds for considering my conduct unreasonable. That it seemed to me a basic principle of justice that if I was failing to meet certain requirements, I must be entitled to know what the requirements were, and that he was required to give me an opportunity to comply, and had not done so because I was unable to know what was required. And I asked that if for any reason he felt unable to meet my requests, that he let me know the appropriate Complaints Procedure at the council, because withholding the information did not seem compatible with his legal obligation to act impartially. He replied blaming me that I had taken so long before contacting him.

I did not hear anything further from him until the Community Protection Notice arrived. The officer also sent an electronic version of the CPN, with a note that as he had received a further complaint he had no alternative but to issue the CPN.

I remain mystified as to why my behaviour was seen as unreasonable, and why, if there were items in my garden causing someone a problem, I was not told which they were so that I could rectify that problem. I cannot believe that the intention of the CPN process can be that someone should be dragged through it without knowledge of what they are supposed to have done wrong or how to put it right. And I assume I should have been entitled to that information in writing, since the Warning and the Notice are in writing.

My great fear now is that the council officer appears to believe that the fact he receives a follow-up complaint is by itself grounds to take further action against me. It seems to me that if there is someone who has taken exception to something in my garden and believes the council officer should be getting action taken on it, it is almost inevitable they will repeat the complaint, and at that point, the officer is likely to deem that I have committed a criminal offence, still without my ever knowing what I have done wrong or how I could put it right.’