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Birmingham City Council (17 007 159)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 19 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council failed to collect Mrs B’s recycling on several occasions and then failed to properly investigate her complaints about it. The Council has agreed to apologise, pay Mrs B £150, carry out further monitoring and review its procedures.

The complaint

  1. Mrs B complains that the Council is repeatedly failing to collect her household waste and recycling. She should receive an assisted collection service but says that the Council does not always collect her household waste and recycling when it is collecting waste from other properties in her road.

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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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. 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:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
    • discussed the issues with the complainant;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council has provided; and
    • given the Council and the complainant the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Councils have a duty 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. Councils provide an assisted collection service for people who are unable to move their bins and boxes due to a disability or age. In such cases, councils should collect the waste from the agreed point and return any bins or boxes to the same point.

What happened

  1. In June 2017, Mrs B contacted the Council to report that it had not collected her waste. She complained that the Council had failed to collect her waste on five occasions that year.
  2. In the Council’s response, it apologised and said that it would try to clear the uncollected waste before the next planned collection day.
  3. Mrs B escalated her complaint in July. She said that the Council’s response did not explain why it had missed so many assisted collections in the last 18 months.
  4. In the Council’s response, it explained that the current disruption was due to industrial action. It said that the problems she had experienced had been escalated to the depot who would advise crews that Mrs B required assistance with all of her collections.
  5. A manager from the depot then visited Mrs B in August and said that the problems she had been experiencing would be resolved.
  6. In November, Mrs B reported that the Council had failed to collect her recycling again. The Council agreed to collect it within three days but did not do so. It was collected a fortnight later, on the next planned collection day.
  7. Later that month, the Council arranged to carry out weekly monitoring to check that the crew were properly carrying out the assisted collections.
  8. In January 2018, Mrs B reported that the Council had failed to collect her recycling again.

Analysis

  1. The Council accepts that it missed collecting Mrs B’s household waste on three occasions and her recycling on two occasions when there was industrial action. It also accepts that it has missed collecting her recycling on six other occasions since February 2016. This was fault.
  2. In November 2017, the Council discovered that the mobile technology it uses was showing the addresses which need assistance with household collections, but not recycling collections. The Council has explained that this created an issue whenever regular crew members were absent because recycling collections were reliant on local knowledge.
  3. Mrs B regularly reported missed collections, made a formal complaint and received a visit from the Depot Manager. The Council did not establish why it had missed collecting her recycling and did not discover the problem with its mobile technology until after she complained to the Ombudsman. I consider the Council failed to properly investigate Mrs B’s complaint. This was fault.
  4. When the Council did not collect Mrs B’s recycling in November, it failed to return to collect it within three days after agreeing to do so. This was fault.
  5. The Council decided to carry out some monitoring from late November. However, this appears to have had limited success as the Council failed to collect Mrs B’s recycling again around six weeks later. This was fault.

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Agreed action

  1. Within four weeks of my final decision, the Council will:
    • apologise to Mrs B for the distress and inconvenience caused by the Council’s poor complaint investigation;
    • pay Mrs B the sum of £150 to recognise the distress and inconvenience caused by the failings identified above; and
    • commence a further eight weeks of monitoring the assisted collection service.
  2. Within eight weeks of my final decision, the Council will review the way it deals with complaints about regular missed collections to ensure that proper efforts are made to identify the cause and resolve the issue.
  3. Within twelve weeks of my final decision, the Council will report the findings of the monitoring exercise to Mrs B and to us.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and uphold Mrs B’s complaint. There was fault by the Council which caused injustice to Mrs B. The action the Council has agreed to take is sufficient to remedy that injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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