Office of the Public Guardian

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 19th July 2011.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education) 11:00 am, 19th July 2011

I suggested that in the case that I am discussing a referral to the ombudsman might be required. I had a reply on 17 February 2011 from the Public Guardian, in which he raised new issues in relation to the case. For the first time, the Public Guardian said that my constituent had the only set of keys to the property and that he did not think it right that her ex-husband should be liable for any of the service charges on the property. That issue had never been raised in the previous two and a half years of correspondence in relation to the case. The Public Guardian once again blamed the lack of a buyer for the lack of progress, but he admitted in that letter of 17 February 2011 that, despite all of the correspondence that we had had:

“I accept that updates may not have been pursued as frequently as they might and my head of operations has instructions to ensure regular engagement with”— he names the deputy in the letter, but I will not give it now—

“and her solicitor with regards to any progress in the sale of the property.”

At the end of that letter, he said this about the deputy:

“I am content with the way she is discharging her duties”.

My constituent wrote to me on 28 February 2011 stating how appalled she was by the Public Guardian’s reply. She made it clear that both parties involved in the case had had keys to the property; that her keys were with the Spanish estate agents and had been all along; that her flat had not been visited for five years and that it was only visited then to deal with a leak; and that she had paid more than £15,000 in charges in the meantime. She went on to rebut the Public Guardian’s position and to express her shock at his reference to a visit to her ex-husband, whose Alzheimer’s meant that he had not been able to communicate on a cognitive level for a number of years.

I wrote again to Martin John, the Public Guardian, on 16 March 2011, enclosing my constituent’s letter to me and saying that I would apply for an Adjournment debate if no progress was made. I have received no reply to that letter, although staff in my office made inquiries about it yesterday and were told that the Office of the Public Guardian had no record of the letter.

I am determined to get this case resolved before I retire, but preferably much sooner. I understand that this is a complex and sensitive area of law, but I have no doubt at all in my mind that if the Office of the Public Guardian had lived up to half of the fine words on its website and a quarter of the promises made to me, this matter would have been resolved some time ago. In the meantime, my constituent has lost thousands; lawyers have pocketed thousands; the Office of the Public Guardian has cost millions; and the fortunes of the person whose interest the office is supposed to defend have undoubtedly been diminished. I do not know why the deputy in this case has not acted more decisively; I do not know why a solicitor who does not even reply to correspondence has been engaged; but I do know that the fact that this matter is unresolved is a disgrace.

I know that this matter is not in the Minister’s brief, but will he commit to ask his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Djanogly, to undertake a full ministerial review of this case, with a view to galvanising the Office of the Public Guardian out of its “Bleak House” mentality and into a proactive mindset that genuinely serves the public interest?