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North Devon District Council (17 018 695)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 21 Aug 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complained the Council refused an assisted collection service for her garden waste. The Council has not demonstrated that it properly considered whether it could make reasonable adjustments to continue collecting her bin from her property. It has agreed to reconsider this decision. The Council is also at fault for not collecting her household waste within 5 working days of her reporting a missed black bin collection in line with its policy. The Council has agreed to apologise for this.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complained the Council has withdrawn the assisted service for her green bin which means her garden waste has not been collected since 19 April 2018. She also complained about missed black bin collections during 2017 and 2018. She says the Council has not collected household waste within 5 days of her reporting a missed collection as set out in its policy.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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 spoke to Mrs X and considered the information she provided.
  2. I have considered the Council’s replies to my enquiries and its Waste and Recycling Collection policy.
  3. I gave the Council and Mrs X 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. Councils are not under a duty to collect garden waste and may charge for these collections.
  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.
  3. The Council’s Waste and Recycling Collection policy says it will return within 5 working days for any valid missed collections the householder has reported.
  4. Its policy states it will provide assisted collections for householders who have registered for the service if they have paid for it. However, it says it is currently only able to provide a green waste collection service for people who can present green waste in wheelie bins at their kerbside. The Council introduced a charge for collecting garden waste in June 2017.
  5. The Equality Act 2010 says organisations should consider making changes or adjustments to ensure disabled people can access their services, as close as is reasonably possible to the standard offered to non disabled people .
  6. A council is not required to do more to adjust services than it is reasonable for it do. It can decide what is reasonable, considering the cost of making the changes and how practicable they are.

What happened

  1. Mrs X is disabled and lives with her daughter who is also disabled. She lives in a property some distance from the main road. She asked the Council for assistance with her waste collections in April 2017.

Black bin collections

  1. The Council said its normal black bin collection vehicles could not access the narrow road to Mrs X’s property. It agreed Mrs X would put her household waste into bags and put these in a wheelie bin. An operative would collect the bags and household recycling boxes using a smaller van able to use the access road. These smaller vans are used for collections in areas larger lorries cannot safely access. Mrs X agrees this system generally works well.
  2. Mrs X reported a missed collection to the Council on four occasions between May and July 2017. She says she reported the missed collections within 24 hours on each occasion but the Council did not collect them within five working days in line with its policy.
  3. Mrs X made a formal complaint about missed collections in February 2018. This was mainly about problems with collecting garden waste (see below). The Council said it had made changes to how it made collections, which meant different crews on different rounds. In addition, it had hired temporary staff in July and August 2017 to cover staff holidays. The temporary staff did not know the area or rounds as well as permanent staff. The Council accepted this had resulted in it missing some collections. It said it was introducing new technology that would provide crews with more information on the area they are collecting from, which should assist crews who are unfamiliar with a round.
  4. The Council missed a further collection on 8 May 2018, which was during my investigation of the complaint. It says it was a different driver on 8 May 2018 who was unfamiliar with the round. It has not explained why it did not return to collect household waste when Mrs X reported earlier missed collections.

Garden waste

  1. Mrs X first complained about the Council’s failure to collect her garden waste in May 2017. She made a further complaint about missed garden waste collections in February 2018. The Council responded on 27 February 2018. It explained it had made a number of changes to its garden waste collections in June 2017, including introducing a new charge for garden waste collections. It had made the changes at a busy time when it also needed to hire temporary staff, which had increased its difficulties.
  2. The Council said when it started using the smaller van for black bin collections it should have told Mrs X that it could no longer offer her a garden waste service. It should have told her that if she wished to continue with a garden waste service it would have to be from the collection point on the main road. It suggested she asked a gardener, relative or neighbour to take the green bin down to the collection point. It offered to refund the £36 fee paid for collecting garden waste if she decided to stop having garden waste collected.
  3. In response to my enquiries the Council said it was a coincidence that Mrs X experienced problems from around the time it made changes to its garden waste collections. It explained the garden waste collection service was still under development. So far it only used full-size lorry collections and could not provide assisted collections. It carried out a risk assessment and decided its garden waste collection vehicles could not safely access the narrow road leading to Mrs X’s property. Therefore, it decided to collect Mrs X’s garden waste from a wheelie bin from a collection point on the main road.
  4. Mrs X says she is unable to move her garden waste wheelie bin down to the collection point. The Council said it is not possible for an operative to collect the wheelie bin from her property because of the distance involved and the time this would take. It says it can only provide an assisted service for garden waste where the garden is collected from the resident’s kerb-side using its usual collection vehicles, which is not the case for Mrs X.
  5. The Council has said it cannot ask an operative to collect the green wheelie bin from Mrs X’s property because this is too time-consuming given the distance between Mrs X’s property and the collection point. It also says this would create a precedent.
  6. The Council has said it hopes to improve the garden waste service in future and it may then be able to consider collecting garden waste in bags. However, Mrs X has said this would not work for her.

My findings

  1. The Council has provided an assisted collection service for Mrs X’s black bin and recycling boxes, which it has a duty to collect. Mrs X has agreed this is generally working well.
  2. The Council has missed a small number of black bin collections from Mrs X in 2017 and one collection in 2018. Mrs X has reported the missed collections but says the Council did not return to collect the black bin within five working days in line with its policy. The Council has not explained why it did not do so. This is fault. This fault has caused Mrs X inconvenience because the Council missed three collections quite close together in July 2017.
  3. The Council is not under a duty to collect garden waste. This is a discretionary service it has decided to offer residents for a charge. Because it offers the service to all residents, the Council had a duty under the Equality Act to consider making reasonable adjustments to enable Mrs X to also access the service. This does not mean the Council has to provide the adjustments. Instead it means the Council must fully consider Mrs X’s circumstances and decide what, if any, adjustments it can reasonably make. It should also be able to demonstrate how it has made this decision.
  4. The Council’s policy says it offers an assisted garden waste service to people who are registered for it. In its reply to my enquiries the Council has said it could not offer Mrs X this service assisted because it:
    • Did not collect her garden waste from the kerbside and
    • It was too far to transport the bin to and from the main road collection point.

This is a contradiction in the Council’s policy and practice, causing avoidable confusion to Mrs X and other residents.

  1. Mrs X has said if she was not disabled she would be able to take her bin to the collection point. The Council previously made an adjustment that meant an operative collected the bin from her property and returned it after collection of garden waste.
  2. The Council has considered whether its usual collection vehicle could access Mrs X’s drive and decided this would not be safe. Therefore, that is not an adjustment that is reasonable for it to make.
  3. It has also considered whether an operative could collect the bin from her property. The Council decided this would take too long so it would be too costly. The Council was entitled to consider cost when deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable. However, the Council used to provide this adjustment to Mrs X. It has not explained why it would not be reasonable for it to continue to do so, having regard to Mrs X’s disability.
  4. The Council has also said it cannot offer this assistance because it would set a precedent. This is not a valid reason for refusing to make a reasonable adjustment because each case should be considered on its own merits.
  5. The Council has therefore not shown it properly considered whether to make a reasonable adjustment to Mrs X’s garden waste collection service. This is fault. This fault means the Council may not have complied with its responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. It also means Mrs X has not had her garden waste collected since April 2018 despite having paid the Council’s fee for these collections.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council will, within one month of the date of the final decision, reconsider whether it can offer Mrs X an assisted collection service for her garden waste collections. It will write to Mrs X and the Ombudsman setting out its decision and its reasons for reaching it. It will also review its policy to be clear and consistent about the availability of its assisted garden waste service.
  2. The Council will, within one month of the final decision, apologise to Mrs X for not returning to collect her black bin within five working days after she reported missed collections.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have found fault leading to personal injustice. The Council has agreed action to remedy that injustice and prevent reoccurrence of this fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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