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Birmingham City Council (19 008 823)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council has repeatedly failed to collect his recycling on the scheduled day or promptly when it misses collections. Based on the information available I am minded to find the Council’s repeated failure to collect Mr X’s recycling amounts to fault. This fault has caused Mr X an injustice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the Council has repeatedly failed to collect his recycling on the scheduled day or soon after when it misses collections. Mr X states the missed collections affect the whole street and resulted in an accumulation of waste which was unsightly and a potential hazard.
  2. Mr X also complains the Council failed to take account of his disability and make reasonable adjustments, both in its correspondence with him and in supporting him in disposing of the uncollected waste, which he was unable to take to the recycling centre.
  3. Mr X’s mother, Mrs Y is supporting Mr X to make this complaint.

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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. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X and Mrs Y;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mrs Y and the Council and invited their comments.

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What I found

Refuse and recycling collections

  1. Councils have a duty under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to collect household waste and recycling from properties in its area. The collections do not have to be weekly and councils can decide the type of bins or boxes people must use.
  2. The Council's practice is to make a weekly household waste collection and a fortnightly recycling collection.
  3. At the end of December 2018 collection crews began industrial action. The Council introduced a contingency plan to make one collection for all waste types each week rather than separate collections of household waste and recycling. The crews began working to rule on 29 December 2018 and the first full day of industrial action was 19 February 2019.
  4. The Council moved to a fortnightly collection for all waste types in February 2019. When the industrial action ended in mid-March 2019, the Council returned to weekly household and fortnightly recycling collections.
  5. The Council provides an assisted collection service for people who are unable to move their bins and boxes due to a disability or age. The Council should collect the bins from the storage point and return them to the same point.
  6. When a resident reports a missed collection, the Depot will ask the crew to return to complete the round as soon as possible. When the Council has completed the collection, it closes the report.

What happened here

  1. Mr X complains the Council has repeatedly failed to collect his recycling on the scheduled days. It has then failed to collect the missed recycling on the day it said it would. The missed collections affect the whole street and have led to build up of waste on the street, including a lot of broken glass.
  2. According to the Council’s records, Mr X reported nine missed recycling collections between January and September 2019. The reports are all closed which indicates the Council has since made the missed collections. However, the dates the Council closed these reports suggests there was a delay in making the collections with consecutive collections being missed. The records also suggest the Council also missed other scheduled collections.
  3. For example, Mr X reported missed collections on 18 March and 1 April 2019, and the Council closed both reports on 18 April 2019. This suggests the Council missed the scheduled collection on 15 April 2019. If the Council had made this collection, it could have closed the report that day. It also means Mr X had to wait just over six weeks between collections.
  4. Mr X also reported a missed collection on 27 May 2019. The Council closed this report on 24 June 2019 which suggests the Council also missed the collection scheduled for 10 June 2019. Had it made this collection it could have closed the report that day. This again means there was a period of six weeks between collections.
  5. Similarly, Mr X reported a missed collection on 19 August 2019 which the Council closed on 16 September 2019. This again suggests the Council missed the intervening scheduled collection, so that rather than have fortnightly collections Mr X had to wait six weeks between collections.
  6. The Council states there may be a delay between when it goes out to collect a missed collection and when it closes the report, so it is not necessarily the case that it also missed the intervening collections. However, the Council has not provided evidence of the dates it made the missed collections where they are different to the date it closed the report.
  7. In addition to reporting missed collections, Mr X also complained to the Council about the service. In early April 2019 Mr X complained the Council had missed the last two scheduled collections. He asked the Council to collect the recycling and ensure this did not happen again. Mr X was concerned that leaving the recycling on the street for four weeks was a health and safety risk as people were taking glass bottles out of the recycling and throwing or smashing them.
  8. The Council apologised for the erratic recycling collections during the industrial action and advised that collections were returning to schedule. Mr X clarified he was not complaining about missed collections during the industrial action. His complaint related to missed collections since the industrial action had ended. He also reported a further missed collection.
  9. Mr X contacted the Council again in early June 2019 as there had been further missed recycling collections. He was concerned the Council had not resolved the problem and stated the street was full of recycling waste and broken glass bottles. He asked the Council to collect the waste and explain how it would ensure this did not happen again. Mr X also reminded the Council it was aware he had a disability and should be making reasonable adjustments to assist him.
  10. Mrs Y also made a complaint on Mr X’s behalf. She reiterated there had been problems with the recycling collections for months and that the local environment was a disgrace with overflowing bins and broken glass. Mr X asked the Council to send any further correspondence via Mrs Y.
  11. The Council reviewed Mr X’s complaint and responded directly to him. It explained it was experiencing ongoing operational difficulties which it was working to rectify. The Council had escalated the matter to the depot manager and aimed to have the recycling collection service back on track as soon as possible.
  12. Mr X asked the Council to respond via Mrs Y. He also asked the Council to make a reasonable adjustment to support him in disposing of the excess recycling as he was unable to take the recycling to the tip himself.
  13. The Council responded to Mrs Y and reiterated that operational difficulties had impacted on the recycling collections. It advised Mr X to leave his bin out for collection and stated it would also collect any excess recycling from a missed collection.
  14. Mrs Y was disappointed the Council had not made reasonable adjustments to support Mr X and there have been further missed collections. She has asked the Ombudsman to investigate his complaint.
  15. In response to my enquiries the Council states there are still operational issues at the depot, particularly in the resourcing of recycling crews. It states senior managers within Waste Management are committed to resolving this problem as soon as possible.
  16. The Council has arranged to monitor Mr X’s recycling collections for the next three months. The Council will also arrange for Mr X to receive assisted collections. It states Mr X has not requested this service and his disability is unclear, but the Council considers it may be helpful for him.

Analysis

  1. The Council accepts it has missed collections, and that there are problems with the service that have led to delays in making these missed collections. I do not consider the Council’s records reflect the full extent of the problem. I note Mr X was unable to log missed household waste and recycling collections via the Council’s online system in early November 2019. I consider it likely there were more missed collections than the records suggest.
  2. The repeated failure to collect Mr X’s recycling amounts to fault.
  3. It is unfortunate that the Council has not been able to resolve the problems with Mr X’s collections. But I recognise it has begun to monitor the collections and will provide Mr X with assisted collections if he wants this service. This should lead to an improvement in the service.
  4. I also consider there to be fault in the way the Council has responded to Mr X’s complaints. The Council’s response did not address Mr X’s concerns but apologised for missed collections during the industrial action. It also assured Mr X collections were returning to schedule but continued to miss Mr X’s recycling collections.
  5. It is disappointing that although Mr X asked the Council to correspond with him via Mrs Y, the Council initially continued to contact him directly. It did then link Mr X and Mrs Y’s complaints and correspond with Mrs Y rather than Mr X, but this should have happened sooner.
  6. Mr X also asked for assistance in disposing of the excess waste. The Council confirmed it would collect the excess waste. We would expect the service to improve, but if the Council continues to miss collections there will be recurring problems with the build-up of waste. We would expect the council to consider whether it is able to make reasonable adjustments to assist Mr X.
  7. Having identified fault, I must now consider whether this has caused Mr X an injustice. Mr X has had to find ways to manage the uncollected recycling left at his property as he was unable to take it to the tip himself. He has also experienced frustration and disappointment, both with the missed collections and the Council’s failure to resolve the problem. Mr X has been put to unnecessary time and trouble in trying to resolve this matter.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mr X and pay him £200 in recognition of the frustration, and difficulties the failure to make regular waste collections has caused.
  2. The Council should carry out this action within one month of the final decision on this complaint.

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Final decision

  1. The Council’s repeated failure to collect Mr X’s recycling on the scheduled days amounts to fault. This fault has caused an injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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