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Birmingham City Council (19 010 815)

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 household waste and recycling on the scheduled day, or promptly when collections are missed. The Council’s repeated failure to collect Mr X’s household waste and recycling on the scheduled day amounts to fault. As does the failure to provide a regular street cleaning service. These faults have 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 household waste and recycling on the scheduled day. He complains that although the Council says it will collect the missed waste in two days this does not happen, and it does not collect the waste until the next scheduled collection.
  2. Mr X states that when collections are missed, waste accumulates on the street and is untidy and attracts foxes. He complains the problem is exacerbated as the street cleaning service does not regularly visit his street.

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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;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • discussed the issues with Mr X; and
    • sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mr X 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. 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 the household waste and recycling from his street for over a year. Mr X states he routinely telephones to report the missed collections and the Council states it will collect the missed waste within two working days. These collections are not made, and the waste accumulates until the next scheduled collection. Mr X states the build-up of uncollected waste has been so great that he has had to make frequent trips to the tip to dispose of it.
  2. Mr X states the problem of missed collections and waste left on the street is made worse by failings in the Council’s street cleaning service. Mr X is concerned about the appearance of his street and states he will often collect the litter and debris on the street himself and take it to the tip.
  3. The Council states Mr X only reported one missed collection in 2019. That was on 15 July 2019, and the Council closed this report on 11 November 2019 as part of a bulk closure of reports. Mr X disputes that this was the only missed collection he reported.
  4. The Council has confirmed that other residents also reported missed collections. The records show the residents of Mr X’s street reported more than a dozen missed recycling collections in 2019 and early 2020. The Council closed several reports from July 2019 as part of a bulk closure on 11 November 2019. And closed reports from August 2019 on 29 November 2019. It is not possible to tell from the information provided when these missed collections were actually made.
  5. Other reports suggest the Council did not collect the missed waste in a timely manner and that it also missed other collections from Mr X’s street. For example, a resident reported a missed collection in November 2019, which the Council closed four weeks later. This suggests the Council also missed the intervening scheduled collection.
  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. Mr X made a formal complaint to the Council at the beginning of March 2019. He complained the Council had not emptied the bins on his street for a very long time and they were now overflowing. Mr X also complained about the service he received when he telephoned the Council’s contact centre to report missed collections.
  8. The Council apologised for any disruption caused by the industrial action. It acknowledged this had resulted in a number of missed collections and a delay in clearing missed collections. The Council confirmed the dispute had now ended and collections would return to the normal schedule.
  9. Mr X made a further complaint in July 2019. He was unhappy that despite reporting a missed collection, the Council had still not collected the waste. The Council appears to have responded to Mr X’s concerns under two different reference numbers.
  10. On 9 August 2019 the Council explained it had experienced challenging circumstances since January 2019 but had managed to stabilise the service over the last few months. There were still several ongoing operational difficulties it was working to resolve so the service could return to normal scheduled collections. The Council apologised for the reduced level of service and any inconvenience caused.
  11. The Council also responded to Mr X’s complaint under a different reference number on 12 August 2019. In this response the Council noted an officer should have logged Mr X’s report of a further missed collection on 19 July 2019. It noted the next scheduled collection would have been 2 August 2019, and asked Mr X to confirm whether it had collected the recycling. The Council also apologised for any misunderstanding in logging his complaint.
  12. As Mr X was not satisfied by the Council’s responses, he asked it to review his complaint. He stated it took the Council one month to collect his recycling when he reported a missed collection. Mr X also complained about difficulties he had experienced in requesting a review over the telephone. He said the waste was piling up and asked for a regular collection.
  13. In its response the Council noted its records showed that Mr X had reported a missed collection on 15 July 2019. It assumed this report related to the collection scheduled for 5 July 2019 and stated it had made the subsequent four collections as scheduled. The Council also stated it would monitor Mr X’s collections over the next few weeks.
  14. Mr X states there has been an improvement in service since the end of 2019, but there were problems over the Christmas period, and they still have missed recycling collections.
  15. Mr X also complained to the Council and his local Councillor about failings in the street cleaning service. He complained there was an accumulation of broken glass, litter and leaves on his street as that the road sweeper had not attended for several months. Mr X said this debris was blocking the drains and road gutters. He had repeatedly reported this to the Council and been told the street sweeper would attend, but this did not happen.
  16. In response to my enquiries the Council states Mr X’s street is on the border of two wards, so the street cleaning is split between two depots. This split caused some confusion between the depots as to who was responsible for cleaning certain parts of the street. The Council states that one of the depots has now taken on responsibility for cleaning the whole of Mr X’s street. It expects this to lead to an improvement in the street cleansing standards.
  17. The Council has also begun monitoring Mr X’s household waste and recycling collections. This should identify any root causes and help to resolve the problem.

Analysis

  1. It is clear from the Council’s records that there have been repeated failings in the waste collection and street cleaning services for Mr X’s street.
  2. I am unable to identify exactly how many missed collections Mr X has reported. The Council states Mr X only reported one missed collection on 15 July 2019 but Mr X disputes this and asserts he has repeatedly telephoned to report missed collections. The Council’s responses to Mr X’s complaints also refer to telephone calls from Mr X reporting a missed collection in February and a second missed collection in July 2019. Based on the documentation available, I consider it likely that Mr X reported more missed collections than the Council’s records suggest.
  3. Irrespective of how many times Mr X reported missed collections, there is no dispute the Council has missed collections. And it accepts there will have been delays in making these missed collections.
  4. The Council has not offered an explanation for the missed collections but has arranged to monitor Mr X’s collections for three months. This should lead to an improvement in the service.
  5. The Council has also taken steps to improve the street cleaning service for Mr X’s street. While this is to be welcomed, it is disappointing the Council did not identify the confusion between the depots when Mr X first raised concerns about the service. Had it investigated the position when Mr X initially complained, it could have resolved the confusion and improved the service sooner.
  6. Having identified fault, I must consider whether this has caused Mr X a significant injustice. Mr X has had to find ways to manage the uncollected waste left at his property. He states he has made trips to the tip to dispose of not only the accumulated waste, but also litter and debris on his street that should have been collected by the street cleaner. Mr X has also experienced frustration and disappointment, both with the poor collection and cleaning services and the Council’s failure to resolve the problems. 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 £150 in recognition of the frustration, difficulties the failure to make regular waste collections and carry out street cleaning services 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 household waste and recycling on the scheduled day amounts to fault. As does the failure to provide a regular street cleaning service. These faults have caused Mr X an injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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