Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 19 Nov 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains about how the Council has dealt with his refuse and recycling concerns. The Council was at fault for its failure to properly return Mr X’s emptied bins and for its poor communication with him. This has caused Mr X significant distress, inconvenience and time and trouble. The Council will take action to remedy the injustice caused.
- Mr X complains about how the Council has dealt with his refuse and recycling concerns. In particular he complains about the Council’s:
- repeated failure to return his refuse and recycling bins to the collection point
- placement of bins in front of his door which causes obstruction to him
- staff conduct.
- Mr X says the Council’s failings have caused him significant distress, inconvenience, financial loss and time and trouble making and chasing his complaints with the Council.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have discussed the complaint with Mr X and considered the information he provided. I also considered the information the Council provided in response to my enquiries.
- I sent Mr X and the Council a copy of my draft decision and considered all comments received before reaching a final decision.
What I found
Council’s Refuse and Recycling Collection Policy
- Collection crews are instructed to return bins to the area they were collected from. It is the responsibility of residents to take bins back to their property by the end of the day on which they are collected.
- This chronology includes key events in this case and does not cover everything that happened.
- Mr X has a disability and uses a wheelchair.
- In October 2020, Mr X made a formal complaint to the Council. He said the Council repeatedly failed to return his emptied bins to the front of his property. Mr X expressed his frustrations about the matter and said the Council continued to cause him unnecessary distress.
- The Council accepted its waste operatives placed Mr X’s bin outside a nearby property following its review of the service video footage. It said due to lack of resources, a different crew had to service the round which included Mr X’s address.
- Mr X said the Council only addressed the latest error and not the previous periods its crew failed to return his emptied bins to the front of his property. Mr X also said the crew did not return to replace his bins correctly after he made his complaint. Mr X provided the Council with photographic evidence. He remained unhappy with the Council’s response and he asked it to escalate his complaint to stage two.
- In November 2020, the Council issued its stage two response to Mr X’s allegation that it failed to fully address his complaint. The Council confirmed October 2020 was when it first received Mr X’s complaint about the crew’s failure to return his emptied bins to the front of his property. The Council apologised for its service failure which it said was due to staffing issues. It explained the Council hired temporary staff to cover absences. The Council said the temporary staff lacked the local knowledge of bin location which resulted in its failure to properly return Mr X’s bin in October 2020.
- The Council said to resolve the issue, it had asked only regular crews who knew Mr X’s area well to provide the refuse and recycling service. The Council confirmed its supervisory team would regularly monitor collections and call each crew on Mr X’s collection days to ensure no further service failure occurred. The Council said it had checked Mr X’s most recent collections and confirmed service had been provided without further issues.
- In January 2021, Mr X made another formal complaint to the Council. Mr X complained the crew placed his emptied bin in front of his door and provided the Council with photographic evidence. He said this caused an obstruction of the exit to his home especially as he required wheelchair access. As a result, Mr X said he has had to pay his carers for additional callouts on some occasions to remove the bins the crew left in front of his door.
- On 5 February 2021, Mr X asked the Council to escalate his complaint to stage two. This was because the Council failed to issue its stage one response by the deadline. The Council explained it was unable to conclude its investigation and respond within its timescale due to work pressures. It escalated Mr X’s complaint to stage two.
- On 19 February 2021, Mr X informed the Council about some unacceptable comments made by its waste collection crew when his bin was emptied and returned. Mr X stated the crew said “make sure you put that bin back because he always complains”. He said this was captured on his CCTV.
- On 5 March 2021, the Council issued its stage two response to Mr X’s second complaint about bin placements causing obstruction to his access. The Council said it believed its stage one response was due on 12 February 2021 instead of 5 February 2021 deadline. It apologised for its failure to issue a stage one response to Mr X. The Council explained it was due to work pressures caused by the impact of COVID-19.
- The Council said it contacted Mr X on 11 February 2021. This was to confirm if the photo he provided to it in January 2021 was the picture he was complaining about. It explained the photo appeared to have been taken through a window and it could not establish the position of the bin from the image Mr X provided. So, it had asked Mr X to clarify if the bin was blocking his door or his window.
- The Council confirmed it carried out a site inspection on 12 February 2021. This was to review the waste service standard provided to Mr X on his bin collection day. It said it found the bins in front of Mr X’s property were left in a tidy manner with no obstruction to his property. It said all Mr X’s bins were contaminated. The Council said it does not empty contaminated bins but it asked the waste crew to empty all Mr X’s contaminated bins. This was to ensure Mr X had a fresh start to recycle without contamination issues. The Council confirmed all crews that serviced Mr X’s property were aware they were required to place the bins in a position that did not block his door. It said the waste service supervisor regularly reminded the crew and monitored the service on a weekly basis.
- The Council said it would ensure a waste service supervisor continued to monitor collections and contact the crew servicing Mr X’s property to ensure the bins were emptied and returned on the collection day. It said it had informed its staff it expected no further service failure reports for Mr X’s property.
- Mr X replied to the Council. He said his complaint was about the bin obstructing his access and not about contamination. Mr X clarified the photo of the bin obstructing his access was taken from the door window. He also asked the Council for an update on his complaint about the unacceptable comments made by its waste collection crew. The Council said it would investigate Mr X’s complaint about its crew’s verbal comment and would issue its response to him by 14 May 2021.
- Mr X remained dissatisfied with the Council’s responses to him. Mr X made a complaint to the Ombudsman.
- In response to my enquiries, the Council explained there was no specific collection point for Mr X’s property. But the Council confirmed following Mr X’s complaints, it had given its crew clear instruction to return Mr X’s bins without causing any obstruction to his wheelchair access. The Council said it is satisfied Mr X’s concerns about bin placement with no obstruction to his access have now been resolved. It confirmed its waste collection service continues to be monitored on a weekly basis for Mr X’s and other service users’ properties.
- The Council has offered to allocate an individual supervisor or manager with contact details to Mr X. This would enable him to make direct contact if required to help with using its service.
Positioning of bins
- I note Mr X complained about the Council’s repeated failure to correctly return his emptied bins. I have seen no evidence to show Mr X made complaint(s) to the Council about this matter prior to October 2020. Therefore, I cannot come to a view on Mr X’s allegation about the Council’s repeated failure with this service.
- The Council explained its waste operatives’ failure to properly return Mr X’s emptied bins in October 2020 was due to lack of resources. And its temporary staff’s lack of local knowledge of Mr X’s area. This was fault. This caused Mr X significant distress, inconvenience and time and trouble reporting the issue to the Council.
- The Council has apologised to Mr X for its service failure. The Council has confirmed it has instructed only regular crews who are aware of Mr X’s requirement and know his area well to provide the waste collection service. It has put in place regular monitoring process by the waste service supervisory team. And the Council has confirmed there has been no further waste collection issues reported for Mr X’s property following his complaints to it.
- While I am satisfied the Council has now taken action to resolve Mr X’s bin placement complaint, I find it has no effective record keeping for its monitoring process. Evidence shows the Council does not store the monitoring ‘repeat sheets’ after sign off by the waste service supervisor. Therefore, if future concerns were to be raised, I find it unlikely the Council would be able to provide an audit trail of its monitoring process.
- Mr X and the Council have conflicting views as regards Mr X’s January 2021 complaint about bin placement in front of his door, causing obstruction to his access. I cannot come to a view on one photograph to determine if there was fault here by the Council. However, I find the Council failed to issue its stage one response to Mr X’s second complaint on 5 February 2021. This was fault. Mr X was put to avoidable time and trouble asking for the complaint to be escalated to stage two.
- I find fault by the Council for its waste operative’s verbal comment which was captured on Mr X’s CCTV. This caused distress to Mr X.
- In the Council’s response to my enquiries, it explained the comment proved the requests for Mr X’s bins to be placed correctly were properly carried out. The Council said while the comment was not made to cause any offence, the Council accepted that it was not the best way to have communicated Mr X’s requirement. It said this would be taken as a training opportunity for the staff and its wider service.
- To remedy the injustice caused by the faults identified the Council has agreed within four weeks of the final decision to:
- apologise again in writing to Mr X for the distress, inconvenience and poor standard of service provided to him.
- pay Mr X £150 financial remedy in recognition for the poor standard of service provided to him. This is to also acknowledge the time and trouble Mr X was put to making and chasing his complaints with the Council.
- by training or other means remind staff of the importance of meeting the Council’s complaint procedure timescales.
- provide evidence an effective communication training has been completed for the Council’s waste collection crew and its wider service.
- carry out and keep an audit trail of monitoring the waste collection service for Mr X’s property for a further one month.
- provide the Ombudsman with the audit trail evidence of the Council’s further one month waste collection service monitoring of Mr X’s property.
- review procedures for monitoring arrangements to ensure records are kept for future audit purposes. This should include the date and times of monitoring and photographic evidence.
- I find evidence of fault by the Council causing injustice to Mr X. The Council has agreed to take action to remedy the injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman