Abstract We present neutron diffraction and crystal field (CF) spectroscopy results obtained for the electron-doped superconductor precursor material Nd 2− x− y Ce x La y CuO 4 (0 ⩽ x ⩽ 0.2; y = 0.5, 1). Samples were prepared via a sol-gel methods. The lattice constants as a function of Ce-doping show the well-known behavior common to this class of compounds, i.e. the a parameter increases while the c parameter decreases with increasing Ce amount. The presence of La expands the unit cell in all directions compared to the mother compound Nd 2CuO 4 while preserving the T′-structure for the above mentioned range. The CF spectra clearly show the presence of electronic inhomogeneities associated with electron doping from Ce 4+ on one Cu-site in the CuO 2-planes.