A food trader was left out of pocket after Barnet Council wrongly ordered his trailer to be towed away and scrapped.

The council has been told to pay compensation to the owner, who spent £20,000 on the trailer and said he had not been able to run his street food business since June 2018.

An investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found the council failed to follow the law, government guidance and its own policy when telling its vehicle enforcement company to classify the trailer as ‘abandoned’.

The council also made no effort to contact the owner – even though his contact details were written on the side of the trailer.

According to the ombudsman, the owner – who is not identified in its report – parked the trailer on a road near his house when a chef he employed became unable to work.

A member of the public complained to a councillor that the vehicle was an eyesore and was not taxed.

Photos taken by an officer for the council’s enforcement company showed the vehicle to be in a good state of repair, with a number plate attached and the owner’s mobile number “prominently displayed”.

But the council ordered a ‘category A removal’ – a term used for vehicles so badly damaged they should be destroyed.

The officer fixed a sign to the trailer warning it would be removed within seven days, which the owner claimed he did not see.

The council claims he ignored the notice, but the ombudsman said fixing the sign to the pavement side of the trailer would have made the owner more likely to see it.

When the owner noticed the trailer was missing, he thought it had been stolen and called the police.

The ombudsman found the council “had already made the decision to take enforcement action to remove the trailer before it had considered the photographic evidence and information in the enforcement officer’s site visit report”.

It also failed to check the DVLA database, which would have shown the vehicle had a registered keeper and was taxed.

The reason the council gave for deciding the trailer was abandoned – because it was not attached to a vehicle – is at odds with Government guidance and its own policies.

The ombudsman told the council to apologise, pay for a replacement trailer and review its own policies and staff training.

It added that the council should pay the owner £500 “for the distress and uncertainty caused by the loss of the trailer and for the time and trouble taken to bring his complaint”.

Barnet Council agreed to the recommendations.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King said: “The council missed numerous opportunities to get hold of the owner.

“Instead it ordered the trailer to be towed away and immediately destroyed, contrary to all guidance available.

“I welcome Barnet Council’s readiness to accept my recommendations to improve its services to people in the borough.”

A Barnet Council spokesperson said: “The council takes its enforcement duties very seriously and will take action against anyone who is blighting the borough’s environment, as well as impacting the quality of life for our residents.

“In this case, we were responding to concerns raised directly by residents about an unlit food trailer, which had been parked for some time in a residential area and was deemed to be causing an eyesore.

“Before the vehicle was removed, enforcement notices were placed on the van, setting out that it would be removed if it was not moved. These notices were subsequently ignored by the owner.

“The council accepts that whilst the removal was lawful, we should have contacted the owner before destroying the vehicle and will adopt the recommendations put forward by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

“We apologise to the owner of the vehicle and are in the process of finalising appropriate compensation. Our processes are also being reviewed so we can ensure this does not happen again.”