Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 25 Mar 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained about problems with his assisted bin collection and that the Council’s policy on garden waste collection has not properly considered his circumstances. He also complained the Council will not deal with his complaints by phone. There was no fault in how the Council considered Mr X’s reports of missed collections, or in its adoption of a garden waste collection policy. However the Council’s complaint procedure does not refer to being able to make complaints by phone. This is not in line with our guidance on good practice. The Council has agreed to amend its policy and apologise to Mr X.
- Mr X complains about problems with the Council’s operation of his assisted bin collection. He says crews are not putting his bin back in the correct place despite reporting this problem to it. He has limited vision and so wrongly placed bins have caused him particularly serious problems, on one occasion preventing him from leaving his house.
- He also complains that the Council has not properly considered the impact of charging for its garden waste collection, given his circumstances.
- He also complains the Council has refused to deal with his reports and complaints about missed collections by phone and has not made reasonable adjustments for him to do so.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I wrote to Mr X with a summary of my complaint in audio form, inviting him to comment.
- I considered information provided by the Council.
- I considered the Ombudsman’s guidance to councils on running a complaint system.
- I sent my draft decision in audio form to Mr X and wrote to the Council with my draft decision gave them an opportunity to comment on it.
What I found
- Councils have a duty to collect household waste and recycling free of charge. Councils are not under a duty to collect garden waste and may charge for these collections.
- Councils operate assisted bin collection services for people who have particular needs. This can include collecting and returning bins to a specific place.
- People can report missed bin collections to councils. We expect councils to then put the problem right in a reasonable period of time. If the problem is not put right promptly, people can complain to the council and then to us about this. I have referred to these different types of action as ‘reports’ and ‘complaints’ respectively in this statement.
- The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on councils to make reasonable adjustments for certain people. The duty aims to make sure that a disabled person can use a council service as close as is reasonably possible to the standard usually offered to people without disability.
- Councils must think in advance about what disabled people might reasonably need.
- The Council has an online form for people to report missed bins. It also takes reports of missed bins made by telephone to its main contact number. It passes these reports to the relevant service to be dealt with.
- The Council’s written complaint policy says complaints can be made online, by email or in writing. It does not mention an option to make complaints by telephone.
- Mr X is sight impaired. This means it is particularly important for the Council to put his bins back in the right place after collection so they are not an obstruction to him or his assistance dog. This is a reasonable adjustment to how the Council provides Mr X with its service.
- Mr X reported a missed bin to the Council in April 2018. The Council’s record says it collected the bin the next day. The record shows Mr X said he had reported the Council had missed his collection several times over the past months.
- Following Mr X’s report, the crew supervisor for the team collecting Mr X’s waste agreed to monitor the next few collections to check there were no further problems. It says it spoke to Mr X in May to explain it would monitor collections in this way.
- The Council says it spoke to Mr X in June and that he said had had no further problems with collections.
- In July 2018 Mr X reported that his bin had not been put back in the right location. The Council record of the call was that it had corrected the problem. In September 2018 Mr X again reported to the Council that it had not put his bin back in the required position. He said it had been left in front of his door and so he could not get out of his house safely. The Council’s record of this event shows it reminded collection crews to put the bin back in the correct location.
- Mr X had, meanwhile, been in correspondence with the Ombudsman. He said he could not lodge a formal complaint with the Council because it refused to take his complaints made by phone. His sight impairment meant this was the only way he could make complaints.
- In response to my enquiries the Council said customers can report missed bins by phone using the council main contact number. The support team log the report and forward it to the department. It said it had recorded Mr X’s reports in this way and knew about his specific needs.
- It provided records that show collection crews know Mr X has an assisted service and that his bin must be put back in the right location. It said that as new members of staff are added, sometimes errors occur. It tried to correct this as soon as possible. It briefed new, seasonal and temporary staff about specific customer needs.
- The Council told me people can make formal complaints to it by phone although it normally prefers complaints in writing. It said it had taken Mr X’s complaints about missed bins and misplaced bins by phone.
- It said it charges for garden waste collection as it is entitled to. It confirmed it will still collect garden waste left in a household bin and does not charge for this. It had carried out an equality impact assessment about introducing charges for garden waste collection and kept this under review.
- The Council is entitled to charge for garden waste collection. Almost all councils make such charges. It adopted its charging policy having considered the impact of charging on people with specific needs. People can continue to place garden waste in their household bin and have it collected by the Council without charge. There is no fault in the Council’s policy or its development.
- The Council records Mr X has reported problems with his bin collection to it three times over the past year. It has dealt with the problem appropriately each time, apologising. It has reminded collection staff of the importance of placing his bin back in the correct place. It has correctly recorded Mr X’s assisted collection on its system. It has told Mr X how to report missed bins by telephone and confirmed to the Ombudsman he can continue to do this in this way.
- Missed collections are annoying, frustrating and inconvenient. But mistakes happen and from time to time most people will have a missed collection, a lost bin or another problem with their waste collection. The problems Mr X reports to us are not evidence of administrative fault. He can continue to report missed bins and, if the Council fails to resolve them effectively, he should be able to make a formal complaint about this by phone to the Council.
- The Council complaint process does not refer to the option to make complaints by phone. It prefers complaints to be in writing but says it does accept them by phone. Its published policy does not refer to this as an option.
- Mr X said he was told he could not complain (as opposed to report a missed bin) by phone. The Council said it dealt with Mr X’s complaints by phone, but my view, based on evidence so far seen, is this refers to it correctly dealing with his telephone reports of missed bins, rather than his desire to lodge a formal complaint about this, again by phone. He has not been able to do this.
- The Ombudsman’s guidance for councils on running an effective complaint procedure says councils should allow complaints to be made in different ways, by email, in writing, in person or by telephone. The lack of reference to this option in the Council’s policy is fault. It meant Mr X was unclear about how, and whether, he could lodge a formal complaint with the Council about his actions. The Council should apologise to him. It should amend its policy to allow complaints to be made by phone where necessary.
- Within one month the Council has agreed to:
- Amend its complaint policy to explain how to complain about services by phone.
- Apologise to Mr X for uncertainty caused by its lack of policy on complaints by phone.
- I have completed my investigation. I have found fault in the Council’s complaint handling policy. The Council has agreed to take action to remedy injustice caused to Mr X by this and prevent reoccurrence of this fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman