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Coventry City Council (17 011 480)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The complaint is about missed assisted bin collections over an extended period. We have upheld the complaint. The Council has agreed a period of monitoring as a remedy. And a token payment to recognise the distress and time and trouble the faults led to.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr E, is represented by his daughter, Mrs F. Mrs F complains Mr E has been receiving an assisted bin collection service for the last 18 months. But she has made 22 calls to the Council in that time to report missed collections. She says the person she always spoke to refused to put her through to anybody else.
  2. Mrs F says things can improve for a few collections but missed collections then start again. For 12 weeks to September 2017 there were no collections at all. Collections have been better since then, but a collection was missed in December. Mrs F worries matters might get worse again.

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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. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mrs F;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered its response;
    • spoken to Mrs F;
    • I have sent Mrs F and the Council my draft decision and invited their comments.

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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. The Council runs an assisted collection service for households where nobody can move the bins to the collection point.

What happened

  1. Mr E is an elderly man in independent living accommodation. For around 18 months the Council’s assisted collection scheme has helped him.
  2. In September 2017 Mrs F complained to the Council about missed collections. She noted she had complained five times in the previous 12 months. The Council responded apologising. It advised that it could “…only make the assumption that with the change of service came a change of crews who are having to learn new rounds alongside new assisted collections.”
  3. Mrs F escalated her complaint. The Council’s response advised it:
    • could not explain why it was not emptying Mr E’s bins on collection days;
    • had recently changed the service and crews were still learning new routes;
    • accepted it had not collected bins as soon as possible; once told it had missed collections;
    • had spoken to the supervisor and asked for extra attention on Mr E’s property.
  4. Mrs F complained to the Ombudsman. The Council’s response to my enquires advised:
    • In September 2017 the Council moved from a weekly collection of domestic waste to an alternate weekly collection service. This led to major changes, across the City, to waste collection schedules and frequencies.
    • But two of Mrs F’s complaints pre-dated the changes to the service.
    • “Missed bin reports are collated in a daily report which is forwarded to the waste services team each day to arrange collection at the earliest opportunity. Where repeat occurrences of missed bins are escalated to a formal complaint information is forwarded to the relevant supervisor for the crew involved. The supervisor will investigate the issue to try to identify a reason for the problems experienced and will respond accordingly to the complainant. They will liaise with the collection crew and issue instruction where required to ensure that problems do not reoccur.”
    • It did not have records of calls from Mrs F. Nor had it found any logged missed bin reports.
  • “The lack of formal missed bin reports will have delayed the initial identification of the problem but once escalated to formal complaints the processes in place should have resolved the problem. It is not possible to comment on the causes of the early issues but it is possible that the transition to the new service may have been a contributing factor to the later failures. Further to the findings systems are being considered to assist in identifying where repeat issues occur to allow early detection and targeted monitoring. The effectiveness of investigation and follow up to complaints is being monitored with the use of KPI data to ensure that issues are identified sufficiently and effective actions put in place to prevent further problems and escalation.”

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Fault, injustice and agreed action

  1. Clearly there have been issues with Mr E’s assisted bin collections. These pre-date changes to the Council’s systems. Also it seems the person Miss F has been contacting has not logged the calls of missed collections, unless she complained. These are faults that have caused an injustice.
  2. As a way of remedying the injustice caused to Mr E and Mrs F, the Council has agreed to my recommendations to:
    • Provide an apology to Mr E and Mrs F for the faults identified above and the resulting injustice.
    • Provide Mr E with a financial remedy of £100 to reflect the distress (£50) and time and trouble (£50) which its faults caused.
    • Ensure a supervisor personally monitors the next five collections of waste.
    • Ensure Mrs F can contact a senior officer/supervisor if she experiences further problems with collections.
  3. I suggest monitoring should only end after five collections if Mrs F has not reported any further problems. The Council must consider extending the monitoring if need be.

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Final decision

  1. I uphold the complaint. The Council has agreed to my recommendations, so I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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