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Coventry City Council (21 007 048)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 12 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complained about the Council’s general waste collection service and poor communication. The Council was at fault for repeated missed bin collections, failing to carry out recollections and for poor complaints handling. This caused Miss X avoidable frustration and meant she had to go to undue time and trouble reporting missed collections and pursuing her complaint. The Council will apologise and pay Miss X £100. It will also monitor her bin collections for twelve weeks and consider what actions it should take to improve its recollection service.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complained the Council failed to provide an adequate general refuse collection. She also said the Council failed to respond to her complaint appropriately.
  2. Miss X said she had to go to significant time and trouble to contact the Council after the missed bin collections and the build-up of waste was unpleasant.

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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 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)
  3. 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.

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How I considered this complaint

    • the information Miss X provided and discussed the complaint with her;
    • the Council's comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided; and
    • the Council's policies, relevant law and guidance and the Ombudsman's guidance on remedies.
  1. Miss X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. We considered their comments before making the final decision.

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What I found

Relevant law and guidance

  1. Councils have a duty under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to collect household waste from properties in its area.
  2. The Council collects general waste fortnightly. At the time of Miss X’s complaint, the Council said residents could report a missed bin after 5pm on the collection day and up to two working days afterwards.
  3. The Council says if there is a missed bin, it will try and carry out a recollection the next working day.
  4. The Council has a two stage complaints process. Its policy says it will respond within 10 working days at stage one and 20 working days at stage two.

What happened

  1. Miss X lives in a block of flats and first told the Council it had missed several general refuse collections at the end of April 2021. She contacted the Council several times after that to say the situation had not improved and complained in mid-May.
  2. The Council replied at the end of May. It said it could not explain why it had missed Miss X’s recycling collections and apologised. Miss X was unhappy with the Council’s response and, at the end of May, escalated her complaint to stage two. She said the Council had not collected the refuse bin for seven weeks.
  3. The Council responded to Miss X informally in early July 2021. The response again referred to recycling. Miss X replied to the Council and said her complaint was not about recycling collections.
  4. Throughout July and August 2021 Miss X repeatedly contacted the Council to tell it her general waste bin was not being collected. At one point Miss X said there had not been a collection for nineteen weeks.
  5. Miss X complained to the Ombudsman in August 2021. She said:
    • the Council had repeatedly failed to collect her general refuse bin or act in response to her reports; and
    • the Council's response to her complaint was about recycling and therefore irrelevant.
  6. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint unless we are satisfied the council knows about the complaint and has had an opportunity to investigate and reply in full. We therefore asked the Council to consider Miss X’s complaint at stage two of its complaint procedure. In September 2021, the Council responded. The response was again about recycling. Miss X remained unhappy and asked the Ombudsman to consider her complaint.
  7. In response to my enquiries, the Council said it had records of eight missed collections at Miss X’s address from April to December 2021. Miss X made six online reports. Five were within the two working days’ time limit for recollection. The Council said it does not keep records of its recollections so cannot say if it collected Miss X’s bin after she made an online report. Miss X told me the Council has not carried out any recollections.
  8. The Council says Miss X’s usual collection day is a Friday and its refuse service operates Tuesday to Friday; therefore a recollection may not always have been possible.

My findings

  1. The Council accepted it failed to collect Miss X’s general waste refuse eight times between April and December 2021. Given the Council only collects refuse twice a month, the missed collections amount to fault. Further, Miss X repeatedly told the Council it was missing collections at her property and at one point, said there had not been a refuse collection for nineteen weeks. I consider it likely the Council missed more than the eight collections it has a record of.
  2. Miss X made five online reports within the required timeframe for a recollection but said the Council did not do any. The Council does not keep a record of recollections and so cannot confirm if it revisited Miss X’s property. I am not persuaded by the Council's argument that recollections are not always possible because Miss X’s collections are on a Friday. The Council has not provided a reason why its service could not visit Miss X’s property at the start of the following week. On balance, I consider the Council did not carry out recollections and was at fault. The missed collections and failure to do recollections meant Miss X’s bins overflowed, which caused her frustration.
  3. The Council responded to Miss X’s stage one complaint within the timescale set out in its policy. However, when Miss X requested the Council escalate her complaint at the end of May, it instead responded informally. The Council did not send its stage two response until September, after the Ombudsman became involved. The Council was at fault for failing to act in accordance with its policy. This meant Miss X had to go to undue time and trouble pursuing the complaint and reporting missed collections in the meantime.
  4. In addition, the Council's complaint responses were about recycling and not the missed general refuse collections. The continued lack of response to the substance of Miss X’s complaint was fault. It caused Miss X frustration and meant the Council missed opportunities to resolve her concerns.

Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my final decision the Council will:
    • apologise to Miss X and pay her £100 in recognition of the avoidable time and trouble she went to and frustration she experienced because of the faults identified in this decision; and
    • visit Miss X’s property to identify if there is a reason for the missed collections.
  2. The Council will also monitor Miss X’s general refuse collections for a period of twelve weeks. The Council's waste collection staff are currently on indefinite strike. It will therefore carry out the monitoring within one month of the end of the strike.
  3. By 31 December 2022 the Council will send the Ombudsman details of the actions it will take to ensure it carries out recollections within one working day of a valid missed bin report.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have found fault leading to personal injustice. I have recommended action to remedy that injustice and prevent reoccurrence of the fault.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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