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London Borough of Tower Hamlets (21 006 765)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 05 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council failed to follow its policy to collect contaminated recycling within 48 hours. Mr X also complained the Council’s definition of contaminated waste is too wide. The Ombudsman found fault with the Council. The Council agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendation to create a policy for contaminated recycling waste, complete a period of monitoring of Mr X’s block of flats recycling collections, apologise to Mr X and pay him £150 for the frustration and inconvenience caused.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council failed to follow its policy to collect contaminated recycling within 48 hours. Mr X says the Council’s actions have caused an accumulation of rubbish which attracts vermin.
  2. Mr X also complained the Council’s definition of contaminated recycling is too wide and allows recycling to remain uncollected.
  3. Mr X says the Council promised to rectify this matter in November 2019 but failed to do so. Mr X says when he raised his complaint again in March 2021 the Council took until June 2021 to respond.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered all the information Mr X provided. I have also asked the Council questions and requested information, and in turn have considered the Council’s response.
  2. Mr X and the Council accepted my draft decision.

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What I found

Household Waste 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.

Council policies on waste collection

  1. London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council collects general recycling weekly.
  2. The Council’s website says that collections can be delayed by up to a day. The Council asks that a person does not contact it within 24 hours of the arranged collection date to report a missed collection.
  3. Residents can report missed collections online through the Council website.
  4. The Council does not have a formal policy on contaminated recycling collections. The Council does have an informal policy which classifies contaminated recycling as any recycling reciprocals which have non-recyclable waste in them. The Council says its crews will check the reciprocals for contamination and report any contamination back to the Council. The Council will then look to collect any contaminated recycling within 48 hours.

Council complaints procedure

  1. The Council operates a two-stage complaints process.
  2. On receiving a complaint the Council will consider the complaint at Stage 1 of its complaint process. The Council says it will provide a response to a Stage 1 complaint within 20 working days.
  3. If a person is dissatisfied with the Stage 1 complaint response they can request the Council considers it at Stage 2 of the complaint process. The Council should provide a Stage 2 complaint response within 20 working days of request.

What happened

  1. Mr X lives in a block of flats in the Council area. The Council is scheduled to collect Mr X’s recycling waste on a Friday.
  2. Mr X complained to the Council about the Council not collecting recycling waste from his block of flats on 14 October 2019.
  3. The Council responded to Mr X’s complaint on 1 November 2019. The Council confirmed it had cleared the missed recycling collection on 29 October 2019 and apologised the delay. The Council advised the recycling waste was contaminated so it could not collect the waste on the original date. The Council said it was working with the third-party waste recycling company to resolve the issues.
  4. On 25 March 2020, Mr X’s councillor contacted the Council about issues with recycling waste collection at Mr X’s block of flats.
  5. The Council responded to Mr X’s councillor on 7 April 2020. The Council said industrial action had impacted its recycling collections in March 2020 and in general by the Covid-19 Pandemic. The Council said it had brought waste recycling in-house on 29 March 2020 because of issues with the previous third-party recycling company.
  6. Mr X complained to the Council on 11 March 2021. Mr X complained the Council was not collecting the recycling waste from his block of flats.
  7. From 26 June 2020 to 31 August 2021, the Council’s waste collection crew reported 37 incidents of contaminated waste at Mr X’s block of flats meaning it could not collect the recycling waste. Of these 37 incidents, the Council arranged for collection of the contaminated waste within 48 hours on 22 occasions.
  8. During this time, Mr X also reported six missed collections of the recycling waste to the Council.
  9. The Council provided a Stage 1 complaint response to Mr X on 28 June 2021. Mr X appealed the Stage 1 complaint response and sought consideration at Stage 2 of the Council’s complaints process.
  10. The Council provided its Stage 2 complaint response on 23 July 2021. The Council said:
    • It had delayed in providing a Stage 1 complaint response because of workloads of individuals at the Council. The Council apologised for this delay.
    • Residents at Mr X’s block of flat had contaminated the recycling bins which meant the recycling crews could not collect the waste on collection days.
    • It apologised for delays in rearranging collection of contaminated recycling waste in February 2021.
    • Covid-19 is still causing an impact on its staff and causing delays.
  11. Mr X complained to the Council further on 20 August 2021 about failure to collect contaminated recycling waste. The Council responded to advise it had sent advisory letters to residents at Mr X’s block of flats about how to recycle and had also contacted the management group for Mr X’s block of flats.

Analysis

Council’s definition of contaminated waste

  1. Mr X complained the Council’s definition of contaminated waste is too wide.
  2. The Council defines contaminated waste as any recycling waste reciprocal which has also had non-recyclable waste put in it.
  3. It is not for the Ombudsman to define what a Council should consider is contaminated waste. The Council has discretion to make this decision provided such a decision is reasonable.
  4. The Ombudsman would not question the reasonableness of the Council’s decision to consider recycling waste contaminated if it has had non-recyclable waste place in the same container. This is because non-recyclable waste can cause problems to the recycling process. Problems can be anything from damage to recycling machinery, decreased efficiency or a loss of recycled items following contamination while recycling.
  5. The Council’s decision to consider recycling waste contaminated if they find non-recyclable items it is suitable. I do not find fault.

Re-arranged collection of contaminated waste

  1. Mr X complained the Council failed to follow its policy on arranging collection of contaminated recycling waste within 48 hours of a missed collection.
  2. The Council does not have a formal policy on contaminated waste but says it expects a 48-hour turnaround to collect contaminated waste.
  3. The Council has admitted it had problems with the third-party recycling company it employed before April 2020 in ensuring collection of the recycling waste in the Council area.
  4. The Council corrected these problems on 29 March 2020 by bringing the recycling waste collection in-house. The Council has taken significant steps to correct the issues before April 2020 through a change in operations. Since the operations changed in April 2020, I will consider the issues experienced since April 2020.
  5. The Council noted 37 incidents of contaminated recycling collections at Mr X’s block of flats from 26 June 2020 to 31 August 2021. The Council has written to residents to remind them how to recycle but the Council cannot control what residents place in the waste reciprocals. The Council has taken a suitable step and I cannot find the Council at fault for residents contaminating the recycling reciprocals.
  6. Of the 37 contaminated recycling incidents, the Council only collected the contaminated recycling waste within 48 hours on 22 occasions. The Council’s success rate at collecting contaminated waste in line with its informal policy is just under 60%. The Council should be adhering to its process at a greater rate than this, and this is fault.
  7. This fault has caused Mr X inconvenience and distress because of overflowing bins and the frustration through contacts with the Council not ensuring collection of the contaminated recycling within the 48-hour process timescale.
  8. The lack of a formal written policy or process surrounding contaminated recycling also provides a lack of transparency with the public and potential for not adhering to the Council’s informal process.

Complaint handling

  1. Mr X complained the Council delayed in responding to his complaint.
  2. Mr X complained to the Council on 11 March 2021. The Council should have responded to Mr X’s complaint at Stage 1 of its complaint process by the latest of 10 April 2021.
  3. The Council failed to provide a Stage 1 complaint response until 28 June 2021. This is 53 working days outside the Council’s complaints procedure timescales. This is fault. The fault caused Mr X frustration through the lack of response or updates from the Council.
  4. The Council responded to Mr X’s request for a Stage 2 complaint response within the 20 working days outlined in the Council’s complaint procedure.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the Ombudsman’s final decision the Council should:
    • Apologise to Mr X and pay him £150 in recognition of the frustration and inconvenience caused by the failure to re-collect contaminated recycling within 48 hours often and the delayed handling of his complaint.
  2. Within four months of the Ombudsman’s final decision the Council should:
    • Implement a three-month period of monitoring for Mr X’s block of flat to ensure any contaminated recycling re-collections are made within 48 hours of the original collection date. This should begin within one month of the final decision on this complaint.
  3. Within six months of the Ombudsman’s final decision the Council should:
    • Create a formal policy for contaminated recycling waste identification and collection.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault by the Council as the Council has agreed to my recommendations I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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