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Thurrock Council (21 005 911)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 03 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about repeated missed bin collections. The Council was at fault for missing Mr X’s collections and poor complaints handling. This caused Mr X avoidable distress and meant he went to time and trouble trying to resolve his complaint. The Council will monitor Mr X’s collections for eight weeks, apologise to him for the poor service, pay him £150 to acknowledge the distress caused and review its procedures.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained about repeated missed bin collections between January to March 2021 and June to November 2021. He said the missed collections led to waste build up in his home and caused him inconvenience and distress. He also said the Council’s missed collection reporting service is not fit for purpose. He wants the Council to collect his rubbish in accordance with the schedule, review its procedures and compensate him for the missed collections.

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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. When considering complaints, if there is a conflict of evidence, we make findings based on the balance of probabilities. This means that we will weigh up the available relevant evidence and base our findings on what we think was more likely to have happened.
  3. We cannot investigate something that affects all or most of the people in a council’s area. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(7), as amended)
  4. 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 read Mr X’s complaint and spoke with him about it on the phone.
  2. I made enquiries of the Council and considered information it sent me.
  3. Mr X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on the draft decision. I considered their comments before making my final decision.

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What I found

Background information

  1. The Environmental Protection Act (1990) places a duty on councils to collect household and recyclable waste from properties in its area.
  2. The collection schedule for Mr X’s road is that general waste, recycling and garden waste are all collected weekly.

What happened

  1. In early 2021, Mr X complained about missed bin collections. In response, the Council began monitoring Mr X’s collections in March 2021.
  2. Mr X submitted a formal complaint at the end of March 2021. He said despite the Council monitoring his collections, they had not improved. He asked to escalate his complaint.
  3. Between April and May 2021, the refuse collectors went on strike, which affected collections for all residents in Mr X’s area. Because all residents were affected by this, we cannot investigate the Council’s actions during this period.
  4. In June 2021, Mr X says the Council missed four general waste, four garden waste and one recycling collection. On each occasion, he reported the missed collection to the Council.
  5. In July 2021, the Council responded to Mr X’s complaint. It apologised for the delay in responding and said that due to the strike action, its communication with the collection crews had been disrupted. It said it had now reminded crews who worked in his area to collect his bins in accordance with the schedule and log any issues if they are unable to do so. It apologised for the missed collections and said the Council was working hard to improve the service.
  6. Mr X said the missed collections continued in July so he brought his complaint to us.
  7. He has told us he continued to report the following missed collections:
    • Two general waste and two garden waste in August.
    • One general waste, one garden waste and two recycling in September.
    • One general waste and two garden waste in October.
    • Two general waste, one garden waste and two recycling in November.
  8. He said the ongoing problems meant refuse was building up in house and attracting vermin, he was having to take his own refuse to the household waste collection point and the matter was causing him distress.
  9. In response to our enquiries, the Council said it had received 27 reports of missed bin collections from Mr X between June and November 2021 but only one of these reports was upheld. It said all the other reports were either:
    • raised on days before collections were due or after collections had taken place; or
    • not upheld as the collection was missed due to blocked access issues; or
    • duplicate complaints.
  10. It said it had now addressed the issues with collection crews and reminded them to collect Mr X’s bins. It said it had also met with Mr X and worked with him to resolve the issues. However, it said its officers could not recall the date of this meeting and there was no record of when it took place or what was discussed. It said Mr X was now satisfied with the service he was receiving.
  11. Mr X said the Council visited him some time before Christmas and provided him with a larger bin. He said the officer did not discuss the missed collections during this visit. Mr X says although the larger bin has helped contain his waste, the Council is still frequently missing his waste collections which is causing him frustration and distress. He remains dissatisfied with the Council’s service. He disputes the Council’s record that most of his reports were made either before collection day or after a collection had taken place. He is frustrated that despite his multiple reports of missed collections and complaints to the Council for over a year, the service has not improved.

Analysis

  1. When considering complaints, if there is a conflict of evidence, we make findings based on the balance of probabilities. This means that we will weigh up the available relevant evidence and base our findings on what we think was more likely to have happened. Mr X said he experienced repeated missed collections between June and November 2021. The Council’s enquiry response said all but one of Mr X’s complaints were not upheld as they were either made before collection day, after collections were made or were missed due to blocked access. This is inconsistent with Mr X’s own records and report of repeated missed collections during this time.
  2. Having considered all the evidence, I consider it more likely the Council was missing Mr X’s waste collections between June and November 2021. This is because it is unlikely Mr X would go to the time and trouble of reporting missed collections if his waste was being collected. The Council has also previously accepted in its July 2021 complaint response that it had missed some of Mr X’s collections earlier in the year, had apologised for this and told him it was working to improve the service. Therefore, it is more likely than not that previously identified issues were ongoing. The repeated missed bin collections from June to November 2021 is fault.
  3. The Council told us Mr X was now satisfied with the service since it had met with him. Mr X said this is not the case. He said the service has not improved and the Council is continuing to miss his collections, causing him ongoing frustration and distress. On balance, I am not satisfied the Council has taken sufficient action to resolve Mr X’s complaint and Mr X has now been complaining for over a year. This is poor complaint handling and fault. Mr X has gone to considerable time and trouble reporting missed collections and complaining to the Council and the issues remain unresolved. The Council should now take action to address the matters raised.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the final decision the Council will:
    • monitor Mr X’s waste collections for an eight week period and take appropriate action if collections are missed. It will provide Mr X with an email address to report any missed collections directly to the waste collection team during this time;
    • write to Mr X to apologise for the poor service he has experienced; and
    • pay Mr X £150 to acknowledge the distress caused by the repeated missed collections and the time and trouble he has gone to trying to resolve his complaint.
  2. Within three months of the final decision the Council will review its missed collection reporting system to ensure it is fit for purpose and is accurately recording residents missed collections and ensuring appropriate action is taken in response.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have found fault and the Council has agreed actions to remedy the injustice caused and improve Council services.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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