Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 28 Feb 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr A says the Council has missed waste collections and wants him to contribute towards the cost of a new waste collection point at his home. The Ombudsman has found some evidence of fault by the Council regarding missed collections. There is no fault in respect of the new waste collection arrangements. He has upheld the complaint and completed the investigation because the Council has agreed to drop the requirement for a new collection point.
- The complainant (whom I refer to as Mr A) complains via a Representative (whom I refer to as Ms D). Mr A says the Council incorrectly stopped waste collections from the flats where he lives in 2019. He also feels the Council’s request, that residents have a hard-standing platform built at a new waste collection point, is unreasonable and would cost residents up to £16,000.
What I have investigated
- I have looked at what happened from 2019 onwards.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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 have considered the information provided by Mr A and Ms D. I asked the Council questions and considered its response.
- I shared my draft decision with both parties.
What I found
- During 2018 the Council met with residents at the flats to discuss concerns about waste collections. The flats had large communal bins which were accessed down a steep slope. The Council mainly used a small waste collection vehicle for the site. It felt there were “operational safety” issues about access to the bins and discussed residents relocating the collection site to the top of the slope by the road and erecting a hard-standing bin storage area.
Events I have investigated
- In February 2019 a waste collection vehicle had an incident at the site which resulted in the vehicle sliding backwards down the slope and damaging a wall. The Council says the driver was an experienced operative and the problem was due to the gradient of the slope. On 11 February the Council decided to stop collections from the site at the bottom of the slope. It requested a meeting with residents. I understand the Council met at the site on 27 February and agreed with residents that interim collection arrangements would involve operatives collecting waste sacks from the top of the slope near the road. The Council advised residents to look further into getting a hard-standing platform erected for the bins at the front of the property. The Council emailed Ms D in March to confirm what was discussed at the meeting. It gave advice on what a hard-standing area would require and confirmed the interim waste collection arrangements.
- In April Ms D complained to the Council. Ms D also contacted her MP about waste not being collected for three weeks. The Council replied to the MP on 11 April that its collection vehicle could not access the original collection point on health and safety grounds. The bins would need to be relocated to the road level and the Council would continue at present to collect waste from the front of the property. On 18 April the Council asked its contractor to collect any remaining waste left at road level. An Officer visited the next week and confirmed all the bins were cleared.
- The Council’s contractor carried out a risk assessment in April or May (it is unclear as the assessment document is dated 8 May, but the Council say it was completed in April). Officers visited the site and evaluated whether it was safe to collect waste from the original point at the bottom of the slope. The risk assessment found it was highly probable that a serious life-threatening incident could occur with a collection vehicle. To control the situation, it was found collection vehicles shouldn’t use the slope. Instead collections should take place from the roadside, ideally with a hard-standing platform for bin storage. Wheeled bins or waste sacks could be collected from the roadside as an interim measure. There would be no manual handling of bins up the slope by collection operatives.
- In June Ms D told the Council a hard-standing area would cost residents up to £16,000 and this was not reasonable. On 13 June an Officer visited the site and confirmed new household refuse bins had been delivered. This ensured sufficient capacity for resident’s waste. The Council also wrote to residents explaining the current waste collection arrangements. On 19 June the Council monitored the waste collection and found no issues.
What should have happened
- The Council provides a household general waste collection service along with a collection of recycling. These are done on alternate weeks. Blocks of flats may be provided with communal bins which are 1100 litre capacity. Those have to be emptied in-situ by waste collection operatives usually using a small collection vehicle. Where a communal bin is not in place residents will instead have individual waste and recycling wheeled bins. The Council has set collection points for waste.
- If there are concerns about health and safety for waste collections or there is an incident the Council’s contractor will carry out a risk assessment. Operatives attend the site and fill out an assessment form. If there is a high risk or probability of serious incident the Council must have control measures in place to prevent a recurrence and look at interim and long-term solutions.
- If the Council changes its collection service, for example the collection point or day, it should notify residents.
Was there fault by the Council
- The Council did fail to collect waste for around three weeks in 2019. It says this was in part due to the weather, but I see no record of this in the documents it has provided. In any event the Council has a duty to remove correctly presented waste and it failed to do so. That is fault.
- It also seems to me there was delay providing additional wheeled bins for residents. These were on site by June but that was four months after collections from the original site had stopped. I would have expected the Council to check if there was sufficient bin capacity for residents in February and to have the correct number of bins in place by the end of March. The Council says it had interim measures in place.
- Mr A’s main concern was about the cost of installing a hard-standing platform for the bins. He felt this was unreasonable and collections should go back to the original site. I have not found fault by the Council. After the incident with a collection vehicle in 2019 the Council was required to assess if the site was safe. Officers completed a risk assessment and found there was high risk of a serious incident. In view of that, the Council could not continue to collect refuse from the usual point. I appreciate Mr A disagrees with the Council’s assessment. However, I see no evidence of fault in how the assessment was completed and it is not for the Ombudsman to question the merits of decisions taken without fault. The Council concluded, as a result of the assessment, that a hard-standing area would be the best long-term solution. Again, the Council was entitled to this decision and it has required similar platforms in other sites around the Borough. As a result of this investigation the Council has now decided it will not require the hardstanding area. Instead it will continue with the current collection arrangement whereby residents present their bins by the road on the nominated collection day.
Did the fault cause an injustice
- Mr A did not have his refuse collected for three weeks which would have caused some inconvenience requiring an apology from the Council.
- The Council has agreed to:
- Send Mr A a letter of apology for the inconvenience he suffered as a result of the fault I have identified;
- write to all residents in the block to confirm the permanent waste collection arrangements.
- I have completed the investigation and upheld the complaint.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated events prior to 2019 for the reason set out at paragraph 3.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman