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Bristol City Council (19 004 573)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 08 Jan 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains about repeated missed communal bin collections from his block of flats since he moved in around three years ago. The Ombudsman found fault in the Council’s repeated failure to prevent missed collections at Mr X’s block of flats. This caused him a significant injustice as he had to go to the time and trouble of making several reports and complaints. The Council agreed with our recommendation it should remedy this by apologising to Mr X, monitoring collections going forward and reflecting on how it recognises repeat missed collections.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains about repeated missed communal bin collections from his block of flats since he moved in around three years ago. He also complains about the difficulties he has had reporting his concerns to the Council. Mr X says the Council’s failings mean he has had to spend time cleaning up the overflowing bin area, as well as repeatedly contacting it to report problems without a permanent solution being found.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended)
  2. 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)
  3. 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 with Mr X about his complaint and read his submission to the Ombudsman. I wrote to the Council to make enquiries and reviewed the information it sent in response.
  2. I shared a copy of my draft decision with Mr X and the Council and I invited them to comment on it.

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What I found

  1. Local authorities have a legal responsibility to collect household waste.
  2. The Council has set up and is the sole owner of the Bristol Waste Company. It carries out refuse collections and other similar environmental services on the Council’s behalf. Although the Bristol Waste Company is not a part of the Council, the Ombudsman can investigate its actions and hold the Council responsible for it where fault is identified.
  3. The Council’s website says where it misses a collection, members of the public should wait until after 5pm to report it to them. They have until 5pm the next working day to do so.
  4. Mr X lives in a block of flats and shares communal bins with his neighbours. The Council provides several large bins for household waste and recycling.
  5. Mr X says there have been many occasions where collections have been missed since he moved in around three years ago. The result is often rubbish left overflowing and Mr X having to spend time reporting the failed collections to the Council. He says the Council’s website does not let him report missed collections or check the collection days and so he has to make telephone calls instead.
  6. The Council accepts Mr X has had to report missed collections. It told the Ombudsman it found records of nine reports from him since August 2018. It also says Mr X has made two complaints in that time.
  7. The Bristol Waste Company told the Council it recognised its crew had not always carried out their job to the level it expects, and supervisors failed to notice. However, it says since Mr X’s most recent complaint it has sent a service manager to assess the location, spoken to its crew and put the flats on its hotpot list for weekly checks. It also says Mr X has the direct mobile number for the service manager should he need it.
  8. The Council explained Mr X cannot report missed collections on its website because the software it currently uses cannot process requests where an address is in a block of flats. It says while it fully intends to change this, it cannot say when it will be able to do so.

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Analysis

  1. The failure of the Bristol Waste Company to collect refuse from Mr X’s block of flats is fault which the Council is responsible for.
  2. While an occasional missed collection would not justify an investigation by the Ombudsman, in this case there has been a systemic failure to resolve the problems at Mr X’s block of flats. His regular complaints should have triggered a response but there is no evidence they did until very recently.
  3. I am satisfied this caused a significant injustice to Mr X, who has been put to the time and trouble of having to challenge the Council every few weeks. Although it is not fault for the Council to have no way for Mr X to make reports online, the fact he has to call instead adds slightly to his injustice. It takes longer and costs him a small amount of money each time.
  4. The Council has recently put in place some sensible remedies. It has belatedly taken steps to brief staff, ensure proper supervision of the issue and given Mr X the service manager’s direct contact number. However, there are other measures it should take to ensure it maintains a satisfactory service level at Mr X’s block of flats.

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Agreed action

  1. When a council commissions another organisation to provide services on its behalf it remains responsible for those services and for the actions of the organisation providing them. So, although I found fault with the actions and service provided by the Bristol Waste Company, I make my recommendations to the Council.
  2. By 8 February 2020, the Council has agreed to:
    • Write to Mr X to sincerely apologise for the injustice caused by its failure to properly resolve the issues reported by him sooner.
    • Instruct the Bristol Waste Company to monitor collections at Mr X’s block of flats for at least two months, to make sure they happen without failure.
  3. By 8 April 2020, the Council has agreed to liaise with the Bristol Waste Company to review its missed collections policy. This should be with a view to creating an internal reporting mechanism to highlight when a certain number of missed collections are reported within a specific period at the same location. It should also explain what action it will take. The number of missed collections to trigger this and time period will be a matter of judgement for the Council and the Bristol Waste Company.
  4. The Council should write to the Ombudsman to update us once it has completed these actions.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault in the Council’s repeat failings to prevent missed collections at Mr X’s block of flats. This meant he had to go to the time and trouble of making several reports and complaints.

Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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