Will a local authority be held liable for advising that works can proceed if it turns out that the advice was wrong?

United Kingdom
This is another point that comes before the court on a fairly regular basis and did so recently in the case of Lambert v West Devon Borough Council (1997). A senior building control officer of the authority incorrectly advised a member of the public that certain building works could proceed, even though the relevant planning application to the same authority was still undetermined. The problem arose when the works had to be stopped.


A dilemma arises in cases like these for fear of making local authorities too reluctant to give any assistance to callers if they might be held liable in negligence later on.


The position that the courts have arrived at in recent years is that if the advice is given by a person who apparently has authority to speak for the Council (usually a senior officer) and that person knows or should have realised that the advice would reasonably be acted upon, and was acted upon, then liability can fall on the Council or it can be stopped from taking enforcement action. The Borough Council was held liable on that basis in this case.