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London Borough of Ealing (19 012 559)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 03 Jul 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council for repeatedly failing to collect Ms B’s bins. It also finds fault with the way the Council handled Ms B’s complaint. This caused Ms B an injustice. The Council agrees to pay Ms B £250 to remedy the injustice it caused.

The complaint

  1. Ms B complains the Council repeatedly failed to collect her bins on the scheduled days. She says this caused her months of stress and worry because of the health and hygiene implications of uncollected waste at her property.

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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. I spoke to Ms B and considered the information she provided with her complaint. I made enquires with the Council and considered all the information it provided.
  2. Ms B and the Council had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and I carefully considered the comments I recieved.

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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 commissions a contractor to carry out its refuse and recycling collections. It collects recycling and rubbish on alternate weeks. Food waste is collected every week and garden waste is collected fortnightly.
  3. Residents can report missed collections online. The Council reviews missed collection reports each day. It identifies repeat missed collections using a recording system, which is also available directly on the contractor’s IT system. Missed addresses are provided to the collection crew to ensure a collection is made.

What happened

  1. Ms B first reported a missed collection at the beginning of July 2019. She has lived at her address for over 20 years and never experienced any previous issues with missed collections. She says she has always put the bins out in the same location.
  2. Between July 2019 and November 2019 Ms B made 20 missed collection reports to the Council.
  3. In July 2019 and August 2019 Ms B complained to the Council about its response to the missed collections.
  4. Ms B remained dissatisfied with the Councils response and complained to the Ombudsman.
  5. In response to my enquiries the Council says:
    • There were operational difficulties, as well as supervisory and management changes at the Council’s contractor during the period there were issues reported at this address, which unfortunately exacerbated the issues for the resident, for which the Council sincerely apologise. The issues have subsequently been resolved and collections have been taking place without issue from the address since 05 December 2019.
    • It regularly liaises with the contractor to troubleshoot persistent issues and discuss repeat missed collections at monthly operational meetings (or specific separate meetings if required).
    • Ms B’s complaint was handled via service requests initially and subsequently at stage one of the Council’s complaints procedure. It was in touch with the resident regularly to try to resolve the complaint.
    • The complaint did take longer to resolve than usual for which the Council sincerely apologises. The complaint was resolved on 05 December 2019.
    • The Council would like to offer a formal apology to the Ms B on behalf of the Council, and its contractor.

Analysis

  1. It is clear from the Council’s records that it has repeatedly failed to collect Ms B’s bins. These failings in the service amount to fault.
  2. I have not seen a reasonable explanation for the amount of time it took the Council to resolve this issue with the contractor.
  3. I was concerned to see the contractor told the Council it visited the property in November 2019 and reported Ms B’s bins were empty. Ms B made a missed collection report the same day. The contractor was asked to provide evidence but failed to do so.
  4. The Councils inability to satisfactorily resolve the issue with its contractor meant Ms B’s bins were not collected for approximately five months. This caused Ms B an injustice. I have seen from Ms B’s communication how distressed she was during this time because of the health and hygiene issues from uncollected waste for such a long period of time.
  5. The Council says it dealt with the Ms B’s complaint at stage one of its process. The Council complaint policy says:

‘Stage one complaints are dealt with by the relevant service head or their representative. Your complaint will be acknowledged within four days and our target is to respond within 10 working days’.

  1. Ms B first complained in July 2019 and the Council says it resolved the complaint in December 2019. I do not think it resolved the complaint. It handled the complaint alongside the missed bin collection reports. It closed the complaint when the issue was resolved. It failed to recognise the complaint also related to the way the Council responded to the issue. This led to Ms B complaining to the Ombudsman because she remained dissatisfied with the response to her complaint, not just the missed collections.
  2. The Council should have followed its complaint process in an attempt to fully resolve Ms B’s complaint.
  3. Due to the way the Council handled the complaint it caused Ms B additional time and trouble, which was avoidable.
  4. The Council offered Ms B an apology but the injustice to Ms B because of the fault I have identified also warrants a financial remedy.

Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my decision the Council agrees to:
  2. Pay Ms B £250 for the unnecessary distress, time and trouble she experienced as a result of missed collections and poor complaint handling.

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Final decision

  1. I find fault with the Council for failing to collect Ms B’s bins and the way it handled her complaint. The Council agrees a financial payment to remedy the injustice it caused Ms B.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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