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Birmingham City Council (19 010 791)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 24 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complains that although she should receive assisted collections the Council has repeatedly failed to collect her household waste and recycling on the scheduled day. The Council’s repeated failure to make regular assisted household waste and recycling collections amounts to fault. This fault has caused Mrs X and Mrs Y an injustice.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains the Council has repeatedly failed to collect her household waste and recycling on the scheduled day. Mrs X receives assisted collections and complains that although her neighbours’ waste and recycling is collected, her is repeatedly missed.
  2. Mrs X’s daughter, Mrs Y is supporting her 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 Mrs Y;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • discussed the issues with Mrs Y;
    • 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. 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.
  4. 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. Mrs Y states there have been problems with Mrs X’s household waste and recycling collections since March 2019. Mrs X should receive assisted collections, but the collections crews do not collect Mrs X’s bins from the front of her property. Mrs Y states the problem got so bad she had to take the accumulated waste to the tip and started going to Mrs X’s home on the scheduled collection days to present her bins for her.
  2. According to the Council’s records, Mrs X has reported 10 missed household waste collections and 11 missed recycling collections since January 2019. The reports are all closed which indicates the Council has since made the missed collections. However, the dates these reports were closed are inconsistent and do not suggest the Council made the collections in a timely manner. The records also suggest the Council also missed other collections.
  3. For example, Mrs X reported a missed household waste collection on 23 April 2019, which the Council closed on 7 May 2019. This would suggest the Council also missed the collection scheduled for 29 April 2019. If the Council had made this collection, it could have closed the report sooner. It is also curious that Mrs X reported a further missed collection on 7 May 2019. If the Council had collected the missed household waste on 7 May 2019 as its records suggest, Mrs X would not have needed to report a further missed collection.
  4. There are similar inconsistencies in the Council’s records of Mrs X’s recycling collections. Mrs X reported missed recycling collections on 7 and 25 May 2019, and the Council closed these reports on 30 May and 17 June 2019 respectively. Had the Council collected the missed recycling on 30 May 2019 it could have closed both reports that day.
  5. The records suggest that over the summer of 2019 there were significant periods between collections. Mrs X reported two missed recycling collections and a missed household waste collection in August 2019. The Council closed all three reports three months later, on 29 November 2019. However, the Council did not close reports of missed household waste and recycling collections in September and October 2019 until early December 2019. Again, this suggests the Council missed other scheduled collections and it calls in to question the accuracy of the Council’s records.
  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 the report was closed.
  7. Mrs Y has made three formal complaints about the failure to collect Mrs X’s household waste and recycling. Mrs Y states the service improved for a short period after the complaints, but then the Council began to miss collections again. Or when they did make collections, the crews failed to return Mrs X’s bins to her property.
  8. In response to Mrs Y’s most recent complaint in early 2020 the Council apologised for the inconvenience and the reduced level of service over recent months. It also confirmed it had remined the crews of Mrs X’s assisted collections. Mrs Y was not satisfied by this response and asked the Council to review her complaint. She stated the Council had collected Mrs X’s waste that week but had not returned her recycling bin. As Mrs X was unable to move the bins herself, it would remain on the street until Mrs Y could visit and move it back to Mrs X’s property.
  9. The Council apologised and acknowledged it had delivered a poor standard of service to Mrs X over the previous 12 months. It confirmed a manager had again remined the crews of Mrs X’s assisted collections and that it would monitor Mrs X’s collections for the next three months.
  10. In response to my enquiries the Council states it runs an assisted collection report at the start of each month with an updated list of all assisted collections. It then manually adds properties to each depot’s hard drive so they can print off and add this to crew information packs. Assisted collection properties also appear on the crew’s mobile technology. It has confirmed that Mrs X has assisted collection status.
  11. The Council has not offered an explanation for the repeated failure to collect and return Mrs X’s bins. But it anticipates the current monitoring will identify any root causes and provide a resolution.
  12. Mrs Y states the Council has collected the household waste each week since the monitoring began but has missed the first two scheduled recycling collections. As a result Mrs X again has a build up of waste at her property.

Analysis

  1. It is clear from the Council’s records there have been repeated failings in its assisted collections service. These failings in the service amounts to fault.
  2. The Council accepts it has missed collections, and that there will have been delays in making these missed collections. Its records of Mrs X’s reported missed collections, when it subsequently made the collections, and then closed the reports are incomplete and inconsistent. I do not consider them to be a reliable indicator of the extent of the problem and consider it likely that there were many more missed collections than the Council’s records suggest.
  3. The Council has confirmed Mrs X is registered for assisted collections and this should be recorded on mobile technology within the collection vehicles and in the crew packs. It is therefore unclear why Mrs X’s bins are routinely missed when the rest of the street are collected. It is also a concern that when they are collected the collection crews only carry out part of the assisted collection service. The crews must be aware of Mrs X’s assisted collection status when the collect her bins from the front of her property. It is therefore inexplicable that they then do not return the bins to Mrs X’s property.
  4. I also consider there to be fault in the way the Council has dealt with Mrs Y’s complaints. Despite the Council’s assurances it had reminded the crew members and regular collections would be made, the service did not improve, and the missed collections continued. In response to an earlier complaint the Council advised Mrs Y it would carry out spot checks to ensure the crews made the collections. There is no evidence the Council carried out these checks, but if it did, this does not appear to have been effective in resolving the problem.
  5. I recognise the Council will now carry out more formal monitoring over a longer period and would expect this to lead to improvements in service. It is therefore disappointing that notwithstanding this monitoring the Council has missed further recycling collections.
  6. Given the high number of reported missed collections I would have expected the Council to be more proactive and acted sooner. The Council states the depot can monitor reports of missed collections by analysing their dropped work spreadsheets to see if certain streets/addresses start to appear frequently. Its mobile technology (in cab device/mobile hand-held device) can also flag up repeat missed collections. Mrs Y’s recurring reports should therefore have alerted the Council to a potential problem. This should in turn have prompted an investigation to identify and resolve the issue.
  7. Having identified fault, I must consider whether this has caused Mrs X and Mrs Y a significant injustice. Mrs X has had to find ways to manage the uncollected recycling left at her property, and to rely on Mrs Y to dispose of the accumulated waste. Mrs Y has also had to visit Mrs X to put her bins out for collection and to return them when the Council has emptied them.
  8. Mrs X and Mrs Y have experienced frustration and disappointment that despite Mrs Y’s complaints and reporting of problems the service has not improved. Mrs Y has also been put to time and trouble in pursuing this matter.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mrs X and pay her £200 in recognition of the frustration and difficulties the repeated failure to make regular assisted household waste and recycling collections has caused.
  2. The Council has also agreed to pay Mrs Y £100 in recognition of the unnecessary the time and trouble she has been put to in trying to resolve this matter.
  3. 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 make regular assisted household waste and recycling collections amounts to fault. This fault has caused Mrs X and Mrs Y an injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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