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Birmingham City Council (19 018 917)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 02 Nov 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complains the Council delayed in providing her with a wheelie bin for her household waste and repeatedly failed to collect her sacks of household waste. The discrepancies in the Council’s record keeping and the delay in ordering wheelie bins for Miss X’s property amount to fault. As does the repeated failure to collect Miss X’s household waste. These faults have caused Miss X an injustice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Miss X complains the Council delayed in providing her with a wheelie bin for her household waste and repeatedly failed to collect her sacks of household waste.

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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 information provided by Miss X;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • discussed the issues with Miss X; and
    • Miss X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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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. The Council charges £20 to replace a missing household or garden waste bins but there is no charge to replace recycling bins.
  2. The Council's practice is to make a weekly household waste collection and a fortnightly recycling collection.
  3. 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. Miss X moved into her property in November 2019 and asked the Council for household waste and recycling bins. The Council provided recycling boxes but did not provide wheelie bins. Miss X states the Council assessed her property and confirmed it was suitable for wheelie bins but did not provide one. When she chased this, she states the Council advised her there was no record of the assessment.
  2. The Council carried out a further assessment in January 2020 and again confirmed the property was suitable for wheelie bins. Miss X complains she did not receive wheelie bins until February 2020. She states she has been given a series of different explanations for the delay.
  3. The Council’s records show Miss X asked to be moved onto a bin collection in late November 2019. Its chronology does not refer to an assessment in December 2019, but confirms the depot checked Miss X’s property on 9 January 2020 and confirmed it could have bins.
  4. Miss X complains that although the Council told her to present her household waste in sacks until she received the bins, the Council did not collect the sacks. Miss X had to dispose of the waste herself.
  5. According to the records Miss X reported two consecutive missed sack collections in December 2019, one in January 2020 and another in February 2020. Miss X also contacted the Council on 8 January 2020 to chase up the wheelie bins and then made a formal complaint on 14 January 2020. Miss X complained two assessors had now told her she could have wheelie bins, but she had still not received written confirmation, or the bins. She stated her rubbish was rarely collected and she was having to dispose of the refuse sacks herself. Miss X told the Council she was no longer willing to do this and would leave the uncollected bags outside her property.
  6. The Council’s response apologised for the delay in delivering the wheelie bins. It confirmed the wheelie bins were ordered on 9 January 2020. It usually delivers wheelie bins within 10 working days, but its stores were working with a backlog. The Council would try to arrange an extra collection for the bags, or for them all to be picked up at the next scheduled collection. It apologised for any inconvenience caused.
  7. Miss X was unhappy with the Council’s response. She complained there were inconsistencies in the rubbish collections. Uncollected black bags were left on the pavement and had been ripped apart by animals and soaked by the rain. Miss X asked the Council to collect the accumulated black bags and provide wheelie bins as soon as possible. She also questioned why the Council had not logged the first assessment carried out in December 2019.
  8. The Council reviewed Miss X’s complaint and reiterated there was a backlog of deliveries and it was awaiting new stock. It apologised for the further inconvenience caused by the delay and for the poor service in relation to her initial request.
  9. As Miss X remained dissatisfied, she asked the Ombudsman to investigate her complaint. Miss X had lost faith in the Council and was concerned it was not recording her information correctly.
  10. In response to my enquiries the Council states all property reassessments were delayed last year as the depot had reduced administrative resources until December 2019. Administrative staff process requests for reassessments and pass them to a depot manager to conduct a site visit.
  11. The Council has not provided any details of the assessor’s visit in December 2019 or explained why a further visit was necessary in January 2020. It has provided copies of its notes of Miss X’s calls to the contact centre and states these do not suggest Miss X was given different explanations for the delay.
  12. The Council does not consider the reports of four missed collections suggest a repeated failure to collect Miss X's household waste. It notes Miss X has not reported any missed collections since it delivered the bins in February 2020.

Analysis

  1. It is unclear why there is no record of an assessor visiting Miss X’s property in December 2019, or why the Council did not order bins at this stage. Miss X refers to this visit in her call to the contact centre and in her formal complaints. And the Council’s response to Miss X’s complaint does not dispute that two assessors have visited her property. I am therefore satisfied the two assessments took place.
  2. It is possible, given the Council had a backlog and was awaiting stock that there would still have been a delay in providing Miss X with wheelie bins. But had the Council ordered Miss X’s bins in December 2019 following the first visit, it is likely she would have received them sooner.
  3. I consider the discrepancies in the Council’s record keeping and the delay in ordering wheelie bins for Miss X’s property amount to fault.
  4. Although the Council’s records show Miss X only reported four missed sack collections while she was waiting for the bins to be delivered, I consider it likely more were missed. Miss X’s complaint states the rubbish was rarely collected and refers to sacks sitting uncollected outside her house on a date not referred to in the Council’s records.
  5. I do not therefore consider the Council’s records are a reliable reflection of the extent of the missed collections. I consider there was a repeated failure to collect Miss X’s household waste, which amounts to fault.
  6. Having identified fault, I must now consider whether this has caused Miss X an injustice. I recognise the problems with missed collections ended when the Council provided wheelie bins. But Miss X had to find ways to manage and dispose of the uncollected refuse sacks left at her property until she received the bins. She has also experienced frustration and disappointment, both with the delay in receiving the bins and the missed collections. Miss 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 Miss X and pay her £100 in recognition of the frustration and difficulties the delay in providing wheelie bins and 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 discrepancies in the Council’s record keeping and the delay in ordering wheelie bins for Miss X’s property amount to fault. As does the repeated failure to collect Miss X’s household waste. These faults have caused Miss X an injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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