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St Albans City Council (21 006 367)

Category : Environment and regulation > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 24 Feb 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council was at fault as it missed waste and recycling bin collections at his property in 2021. But this fault did not cause Mr X an injustice as the Council apologised and resolved the issues. We found no evidence of fault in the way the Council responded to Mr X’s concerns about road sweeping, overgrown vegetation, and parking issues near to his home. So, we are completing our investigation.

The complaint

  1. I have called the complainant Mr X. He complains the Council has;
    • Failed to ensure a regular refuse and recycling collection at his property during 2021 and to return refuse bins to the bin stores.
    • Failed to carry out road sweeping near his property, so mud and leaves cover the roads causing a nuisance.
    • Failed to cut back overgrowing vegetation in the areas around his property causing an obstruction and nuisance.
    • Failed to respond to his concerns about parking issues near to his property and impose parking controls in the area.
  2. Mr X says the issues have caused him inconvenience and time and trouble in pursuing his complaints.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

  1. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have read the papers submitted by Mr X. I considered the Council’s comments on the complaint and the supporting documents it provided.
  2. Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Refuse collection

  1. Councils have a legal duty under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to collect household waste and recycling free of charge. The collections do not have to be weekly, and councils can decide the type of bins or boxes people must use.
  2. Many councils use a contractor to provide their waste and recycling services on their behalf. In such cases the council retains ultimate responsibility for ensuring the quality of the service and being accountable if things go wrong. The contractor may initially respond to reports of problems or complaints, but the council retains ownership.
  3. Mr X lives in accommodation with 62 flats. The residents share a bin between two flats. The flats have a weekly collection for landfill and food waste and recycling is collected every two weeks. The bins are stored in bin stores around the site. The Council uses a contractor to provide it its waste and recycling services.
  4. In June 2021 Mr X complained to the Council about the collection of recycling bins from his flats. In summary Mr X complained the recycling bins were overloaded due to delays in regular collections. Mr X said the collectors left rubbish all over the road, several bins including his bin had not been returned to the correct bin store area and some recycling bins in poor condition.
  5. The Council acknowledged Mr X’s concerns and advised that recycling had not been collected for ‘operational issues’, but it had raised a works order with the contractor to visit and collect the recycling. The Council said it would investigate Mr X’s complaints, visit the site, and look at the bin stores. The Council said it would hold a meeting with the managing agent of Mr X’s accommodation to ensure a satisfactory outcome. At the meeting the agent agreed to re number Mr X’s bin.
  6. The Council raised the matter with its contractor and arranged a meeting. The contractor told the Council it had shortage of staff due to sickness and annual leave. It would normally use agency staff but found it difficult to hire such staff due to a national shortage of HGV drivers. The contractor confirmed it was doing all it could to recruit more staff. It cleared the road near Mr X’s flat of rubbish and delivered four new large brown bins to the bin area to replace missing bins.
  7. Mr X complained to the Council again the collectors did not return bins to the bin store with bins being delivered to the opposite site of the road. A Council officer agreed to visit the site and return the bins. Mr X later complained there was still an issue with bins not being returned to the bin store. Mr X raised concerns the bins did not have numbers on them to identify which flats they were for.
  8. The Council responded to Mr X’s complaint in July 2021. The Council upheld Mr X’s complaint about the refuse and recycling collections and apologised. It said that routine collections were missed but it was unclear why other than delay in refuse collections across the whole district impacting on Mr X’s collection. The Council confirmed it had raised this with the contractor.
  9. The Council noted it was the property managing agent’s responsibility to keep the bin stores clean. But it acknowledged the delays in collecting refuse may have contributed to this. The Council confirmed officers had visited the site, cleaned nearby roads of rubbish, sorted out the number of bins and returned them to the bin stores.
  10. The Council confirmed several bins had been damaged when they were being emptied and the collection crews not reported this to supervisors. The Council said its contractor’s staff had been reminded of their obligations on this. Mr X responded he was satisfied with the response and did not escalate the complaint further.
  11. Mr X raised a further report of that bins were not being returned to the bin stores after collections in October 2021. Mr X also reported a non-collection in November 2021. The Council acknowledged Mr X’s contact and arranged to collect the refuse.
  12. In responding to my enquiries about the complaint the Council says its services were negatively affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and a shortage of HGV drivers. This meant its refuse contractor had major issues with staffing levels and this affected its ability to provide refuse services. The Council says there has been no further contact from Mr X about refuse and recycling collections after November 2021.

My assessment

  1. Missed bin collections are annoying and can be inconvenient. I therefore recognise Mr X’s frustration over the missed collections and mess in the bin storage area. The missed bin collections and damaged bins are fault by the Council. But the Council has responded to Mr X’s complaints. It apologised, ensured officers investigated the issues and visited the site. Officers also liaised with the contractor and managing agent over the missed collections, replaced damaged bins and they were back in the storage area. The issues took place over a few weeks and were resolved. So, I consider, on balance, the injustice to Mr X is not significant enough to warrant any further investigation by the Ombudsman. If we were to investigate further, it is unlikely we could add anything to the Council’s response or would offer an additional remedy.
  2. It is unfortunate there were a few more issues raised about collections in November 2021. But the evidence provided shows these were quickly resolved and were not continuing issues from June/July 2021.

Road Sweeping

  1. The Council says there are several pine trees in the area which shed needles and can block gullies and drains. The Council’s contractor has a contract to visit the site every four weeks to check if the road needs sweeping. Although the number of cars parked in the area can make it difficult to carry out the road sweeping. The Council’s waste management team also carry out checks of the road when in the area.
  2. The Council says it received two reports about road sweeping in June and December 2021 and responded accordingly. Mr X has also raised complaints in October 2021 about mud and leaves on the road. Mr X included photographs to the Council to support his view it was unacceptable.

My assessment

  1. Mr X consider the mud and leaves on the road to be unacceptable. But having views the photographs Mr X has provided I do not consider the matter causes Mr X such a significant injustice to warrant further investigation into the issue. The Council confirms it carries out regular checks of the roads and the evidence provided shows it responds to concerns raised.

Overgrown vegetation

  1. The Council confirms it cuts the grass, manages a three-year cycle of safety surveys, and carries out safety related work on trees in the area. It started carry out the work for the County Council for the grass in February 2020 and trees in April 2020. The Council did not have maintenance responsibility for these before then.
  2. The County Council last surveyed the trees in July 201 and identified no issues needing action. The Council is due to carry out a survey of trees in 2022. But it responded to reports of overgrown trees in June 2021 as waste management vehicles were coming into contact with branches from overhanging trees. The Council instructed a tree contractor to carry out works to resolve the problem in July 2021. The Council then closed the case.

My assessment

  1. The Council’s documents show it has been maintaining the area since 2020 and regularly cut the grass and vegetation. The Council has also carried out works to cut back overhanging tree branches. I do not consider the issues have caused significant injustice to Mr X to warrant further investigation and the Council has taken action to resolve any issues.

Parking

  1. The Council carried out an initial consultation in 2014 with residents in the area to see if parking was an issue and whether they would support any parking controls. But this identified the main issue was residents having more cars than parking spaces available. So, the Council considered a residents parking scheme would not help with this. The Council recommended further street parking surveys to verify if the parking issue was being caused by too many residents cars or those of non-residents who parked there during the day.
  2. The Council carried out a second consultation in 2016. This showed some support for a scheme, but found the issue was too many residents cars rather than those belonging to non-residents. And residents would object if the Council introduced a scheme allowing only one resident permit each flat. The Council followed this up with a survey in 2017 to see what support there was for restricting permits. But residents did not agree to a residents parking scheme.
  3. The Council received a request for a residents parking scheme in 2019 from a resident via a local councillor. The resident submitted a survey indicating more than half the residents supported a scheme. The Council says relevant law and guidance requires it to do its own consultations, so it had added the area to its work schedule (waiting list). But the work schedule is extensive, and the Council has finite resources. Because of this it must prioritise parking improvements by road safety concerns and issues. The Council says the work schedule currently has 21 items for various locations and requests including many for safety issues. So, it cannot say when it will carry out a consultation for Mr X’s area.

My assessment

  1. The Council’s documents show it has responded to residents’ concerns over the years about parking issues near the flats. But there has been little support for a residents parking scheme until 2019. The Council has added the area on its work schedule to carry out further consultation when it is able to see if residents still want a parking scheme.
  2. While Mr X may wish to see such a scheme imposed the Council must ensure it has the backing of most residents. It is unfortunate that it is taking some time for the consultation to be done but it is dependent on the Council’s priorities for road safety issues. Because of this I do not consider it has caused such a significant injustice to Mr X to warrant any further investigation. This is especially as residents may continue to decide they do not wish such a scheme to be installed.

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Final decision

  1. I am completing my investigation. There is evidence of fault in the way the Council carried out refuse and recycling collections at Mr X’ s property in 2021. But this fault did not cause Mr X an injustice as the Council apologised and resolved the issues. We found no evidence of fault in the way the Council responded to Mr X’s concerns about road sweeping, overgrown vegetation, and parking issues near to his home.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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