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London Borough of Lewisham (20 011 042)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 12 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the complainant’s garden waste collections. This is because it is unlikely an investigation would add to the Council’s response and Mr X has not been caused any significant injustice. It is for the courts to determine if there has been a breach of contract.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, has complained about difficulties he encountered paying for his garden waste collections. Mr X says the Council breached the terms and conditions of its waste collection agreement.

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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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mr X’s complaint and the Council’s responses. I invited Mr X to comment on a draft of this decision and have considered any comments received in response.

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What I found

  1. Councils have a legal duty under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to collect household waste and recycling free of charge. Collecting garden waste is discretionary and if the Council decides to provide this service it can charge for it. Residents can choose if they want to pay for the service or make alternative arrangements for their garden waste.

What happened

  1. In July 2020, the Council wrote to residents requesting payment to renew their garden waste collections for 2020-2021. The Council usually sends the renewal letters in April each year, but this was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  2. The letter invited residents to pay for the garden waste subscription on the Council’s website. Mr X contacted the Council as he was having difficulties using its online payment portal. The Council said it was having some technical issues, but Mr X could make a payment over the phone. Mr X said it was not possible to give his payment details while he was at work and instead requested an invoice so he could make a payment at the post office. The Council agreed to send him a barcode which would allow him to make the payment in person.
  3. Mr X contacted the Council a week later as he had still not received its letter. He said he was concerned the garden waste bin would be removed. The Council said it would chase this up and arrange for the letter to be sent again in the post.
  4. Mr X says he did not receive any further correspondence from the Council and on 9 October 2020 the bin was removed for non-payment. Mr X says the Council breached the terms and conditions of the garden waste service agreement. He says the Council should return the bin and issue a credit note for the cost of the service.

Assessment

  1. I will not investigate this complaint about Mr X’s garden waste collections. This is because it is unlikely I could add to the Council’s response and Mr X has not been caused significant injustice by the matter.
  2. I understand Mr X says he tried to pay for the garden waste collections, but the Council prevented him from doing so. The Council has accepted there were issues with its online payment system and apologised. However, it did offer Mr X alternative ways to pay for the service. I cannot know for certain why Mr X did not receive the barcode from the Council, but in its email correspondence it did offer to resend this if Mr X had still not received it. Furthermore, I cannot say Mr X has suffered significant injustice as he did have the benefit of the waste collection service from April until October 2020 without paying the fee. He can also re-register for the collections now should he wish them to continue.
  3. I understand Mr X says the Council breached the terms and conditions of its service agreement. However, it is not for the Ombudsman to determine if a contract has been breached as this will be a matter for the courts.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely an investigation by the Ombudsman could add to the Council’s response and Mr X has not been caused significant injustice by the matter. It is for the courts to determine if there has been a breach of contract.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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