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Trafford Council (17 013 335)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains that refuse bins are not being returned properly to his property, despite his repeated complaints and assurances from the Council that it would be dealt with. The Ombudsman upholds Mr X’s complaint, finding fault with the Council’s failure to take appropriate action, and with the way it dealt with Mr X’s complaint. This fault caused Mr X injustice. While the Council has taken some action to remedy this, it has accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendation to apologise to Mr X and share the outcome of monitoring with him. The Council has also agreed to consider allocating a specific collection point for this property, in agreement with Mr X.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mr X, complains that the refuse collection company, contracted by the Council, leaves lots of bins against the gable wall end of his property, despite being told not to by the Council. Mr X struggles to collect his bin due to a disability. Mr X complains that the Council is breaching its health and safety risk assessment because the bins are a fire hazard when not put back correctly.

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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 considered the information and documents provided by Mr X and the Council. I spoke to Mr X about his complaint. I considered the Council’s complaints procedure, and government guidance on fire safety and fire safety risk assessments. Both Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on an earlier draft of this statement. I considered all comments made before I reached a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X lives in a small block of flats. He has a visual impairment and other health conditions. He says that there have been problems for the last three years with refuse bins not being put back correctly after they have been emptied. In July 2017 Mr X complained to the Council and Amey, the refuse collection contractors, that a number of bins had not been put back properly by refuse collection staff. The bins were blocking the path and causing a hazard. The report of this initial complaint shows that this was recorded as a ‘recurring problem’.
  2. Mr X then complained another four times between August and September 2017 that the bins were being put back against the gable end of the property. He repeatedly told the Council that he believed this was a breach of health and safety regulations and fire safety.
  3. Mr X complained again in September 2017. This complaint was escalated to stage two of the Council’s complaints procedure. Also in this month, he made two further complaints about the bins not being put back correctly. One of these complaints was also escalated to stage two of the complaints procedure.
  4. In October 2017, Mr X complained that he had not had a response to his stage two complaint. At the end of this month, the Council wrote to Mr X with a stage two response. This response noted that Mr X has complained a number of times about this issue. The Council told Mr X that it had issued an instruction to the members of the refuse collection crews to ensure that bins were not returned to the gable wall end of his property in future. The Council also told Mr X it would monitor this. The Council apologised to Mr X.
  5. In November 2017, Mr X complained to the Ombudsman because the problem was ongoing and had not been resolved.
  6. Between mid-December 2017 and the end of January 2018, Mr X said the problem had been fully resolved and he was satisfied. However, he said that in February 2018 the problem re-started. He contacted the Council to try and report the problem but was unable to speak to anyone about it.

What should have happened

  1. The Council has a duty of care to collect and dispose of household waste (Environmental Protection Act 1990, section 45). The Council provides a household refuse collection service to Mr X’s property. After refuse has been collected the bins should be put back, either to where they had initially been placed, or to an allocated collection point.
  2. The Council has a two stage complaints procedure. According to this procedure, if a complaint cannot be satisfactorily resolved at stage one, the complaint should be escalated to stage two. When a stage two complaint is made, the Council should acknowledge the complaint within three working days. The complainant should receive a response within 20 working days of the acknowledgement.

Analysis

  1. The Council says that it verbally instructed the relevant crews not to put bins back at the gable end of Mr X’s property. However, there is no written record of this. The Council accepts that it should have instructed the crews “more formally”. In February 2018, the Council issued a written memo to the relevant crews instructing them not to return bins to the gable end. I find fault with the Council for not properly instructing the crews in October 2017. Due to the lack of proper instruction, and the recurrent nature of this problem, it is my view that this fault caused Mr X injustice.
  2. The Council told Mr X it would monitor bin replacement. The Council says that it does not have any record of any monitoring taking place. It says that “any monitoring was completed in person”. The Council says it will monitor the situation both before and after collections between February and March 2018, and this will be documented. The Council accepts that it should have monitored the situation properly and document the outcome of any monitoring. I find fault in the Council’s failure to document any monitoring that took place.
  3. The Council says that it is “common practice” to have collection points at either end of terraced properties, and that often bins are presented for collection next to the gable end. The Council says there is not an allocated collection point for Mr X’s property at this time.
  4. The Council says that it is not required to have a policy on risk assessments or fire risk assessments in relation to the replacement of bins. I have found no government guidance or legislation that specifically relates to the placement or replacement of bins, or a council’s need to have a risk assessment for this. The Council recognises that bins present a fire risk. However, as there is no legal requirement for the Council to have a risk assessment for this, I cannot find the Council to be at fault.
  5. Mr X complained five times between July and September 2017 before his complaint was escalated to stage two. The Council’s complaints procedure does not say how quickly a complaint will be escalated if it cannot be resolved at the initial stage. However, a gap of two months between Mr X’s initial complaint and the escalation to stage two of the process is not good practice, particularly since Mr X complained four times in the interim. I find fault with the Council’s delay in dealing with Mr X’s complaint, and with the number of complaints that were not escalated to stage two, because it did not follow its procedure. It is my view that this fault caused Mr X a degree of injustice.
  6. There is no evidence that Mr X’s stage two complaints in September 2017 were acknowledged by the Council. Mr X should have received a stage two response within 20 working days of the acknowledgement. Since there was no acknowledgement of either complaint, it is difficult to say when the Council should have responded to Mr X. In any event, the Council gave its stage two response 25 working days after Mr X’s second complaint. Because the Council did not send Mr X an acknowledgement, and because of the delay in responding to his stage two complaints, I find fault in the council’s actions. Due to this delay, and the lack of acknowledgements, I find that the fault caused Mr X a degree of injustice.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has apologised to Mr X for the inconvenience of bins being returned to the gable wall end of the property. The Council accepts that it did not properly instruct the crews or monitor the situation following the stage two response. The Council also acknowledges that the service it provided to Mr X “fell below expected standards”. However, the Council has now rectified this: the crews have been instructed in writing, and there will be documented monitoring both before and after collections. I am satisfied that these actions go some way to remedying the fault and injustice.
  2. Within four weeks of this decision, the Council will contact Mr X to apologise for the time and trouble he has spent chasing this complaint. Also, the Council will apologise to Mr X for not properly instructing the crews or monitoring the problem, as it said it would.
  3. Within four weeks of this decision, the Council will share the outcome of the monitoring with Mr X. The Council will consider what action it will take if this instruction is breached.
  4. Within four weeks of this decision, the Council will consider allocating a specific collection point for this property. This will be done in agreement with Mr X. It is my view that this could reduce the future risk of the problem recurring.
  5. The Ombudsman will need to see evidence that these actions have been completed.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and uphold Mr X’s complaint. Mr X has been caused an injustice by the Council’s actions. I am satisfied with the Council’s actions so far. The Council has agreed to take further actions to fully remedy the fault and injustice to Mr X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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