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Thurrock Council (21 010 035)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 27 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr S complains the Council repeatedly failed to provide his agreed assisted bin collections for over a year. We find the Council’s failure to make regular waste collections amount to fault, which has caused Mr S frustration and inconvenience. We have asked the Council to take action to improve its service and provided a remedy to Mr S.

The complaint

  1. Mr S is on the Council’s list for assisted bin collections. Despite this the Council regularly fail to collect his bins. In responding to Mr S’s complaint the Council accepted fault and said it would take action to stop this happening. However the Council is still not regularly collecting Mr S’s bins. He says the worry of not having the bins collected worsened his anxiety. He is frustrated and inconvenienced by having to report the missed bin collections almost every week.

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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. 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 have considered Mr S’s complaint and supporting information and have spoken to him about the complaint.
  2. I have considered the Council’s response to Mr S and to my enquiries.
  1. Mr S and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Refuse 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.
  2. The Council’s practice is to make a weekly household waste and recycling collection and a fortnightly garden waste collection.
  3. The Council provides an assisted collection service for people who cannot move their bins due to disability or ill health. If the Council registers a person for assisted collections, it will collect waste and recycling from outside the person’s property, instead of the person needing to move their bins to the boundary of their property.
  4. If a resident receiving assisted collections reports a missed collection the crew should return to complete the collection the next working day.

What happened

  1. Mr S lives on his own and started getting assisted bin collections in 2018. He complains the Council routinely miss collecting his bins. He puts them out as far as he can, but they are still not collected, and often just left in the middle of the street.
  2. Mr S says he has complained three times using the Council’s complaint process, and has had three final stage complaint responses. He said the same happened when his Mum previously lived at the same address and was a continuing problem for 12 years. My investigation is looking at missed bin collections from June 2021 onwards, the date of his latest complaint to the Council.
  3. According to the Council’s records there have been nine missed bin collections between June 2021 and November 2021. The Council says parking is a problem so the collection lorries cannot always get to the bins.
  4. Mr S says if he can see there are too many cars parked and the lorry will not be able to collect the bins, he does not report an issue. He only reports when the Council collect other bins on his street but miss his.
  5. In the final stage response dated 10 June 2021, the Council said the Strategic Lead for Waste had spoken to each of the Team Managers and issued clear instructions they should collect, empty, and return Mr S’s bins to his property every week. The Council also added his address to a “permanent-monitor”, meaning the crews have to manually confirm on screen each time the address shows that they have collected the relevant bin.
  6. The Council asked Mr S to log any further missed collections, and report via the Contact Centre if its staff did not return the bins to the point they were collected from.
  7. Mr S told me in the last three months there have only been two weeks where he has not had to report a missed bin collection.
  8. Mr S says when he reports a missed bin collection, he receives an email straight away to say the Council has logged the problem. Three hours later he receives a further email to say the matter has been reported and has been resolved, despite the bin still not having been collected.
  9. As the Council was still not collecting Mr S’s bins, he asked the Ombudsman to investigate his complaint. In response to my enquiries the Council offered a sincere apology to Mr S. It sent me a copy of the Assisted Collection Policy, dated 2017. The Council says the policy is currently being re-written and scheduled for roll-out in September 2022.

Analysis

  1. The Council’s complaint responses do not dispute there have been problems with Mr S’s assisted collections. It has apologised and issued clear instructions to the crew to collect and return Mr S’s bins. It is therefore not clear why the crews repeatedly missed collections and left the bins on the pavement rather than returning them to his property.
  2. We have had similar complaints against the Council about multiple missed assisted bin collections. This suggests a systemic problem which has been ongoing for years.
  3. The Council cannot afford smaller vehicles at present and the Assisted Collections are reviewed annually.
  4. It is clear from the Council’s records and the information provided by Mr S, the Council has repeatedly failed to collect his bins and return them to his property. This is fault.
  5. Mr S is registered for assisted collection due to his medical conditions and has no other way to dispose of his waste. The missed collections have caused him considerable distress. This increases the injustice caused by the Council’s failure to provide a regular waste collection service.
  6. The Council’s missed bin reporting system automatically reports the problem has been resolved when it has not. This is fault and has caused Mr S more frustration.
  7. These faults by the Council have caused Mr S to experience anxiety, frustration, and inconvenience, in trying to ensure he received a service the Council should have provided without any particular effort from Mr S. I have made recommendations to remedy this injustice and to prevent it happening again.

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Recommended action

  1. Within one month of the final decision the Council should:
    • write to Mr S and apologise for the frustration, distress and time and trouble caused by the identified faults;
    • pay Mr S £200 for the missed collections, in recognition of the injustice caused to him by the identified faults;
    • pay Mr S £300 in recognition of the time and trouble he has spent repeatedly contacting the Council and pursuing his complaint for a third time in as many years; and
    • review Mr S’s assisted collection agreement to ensure instructions are clear, and it includes an agreement on who he can report a missed collection to, and how the Council will respond.

The Council should provide us with evidence it has done so.

  1. The Council should monitor all Mr S’s assisted collections for two months following the final decision. It should ensure it collects, empties, and returns the bins in line with the assisted collection agreement. The Council should provide us with written evidence it has done so each month.
  2. The Council should also:
    • review the monitoring process to ensure that refuse workers know of all assisted bin collections and ensure they are successfully completed;
    • review the system for reporting a missed collection to make sure they are accurately and consistently recorded, and the correct data is going through to the refuse workers.
  3. The Council should provide evidence of this within the next three months.

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Final decision

  1. The Council’s repeated failure to make assisted waste collections over a sustained period amounts to fault. This fault has caused Mr S injustice and I have made recommendations to remedy that injustice.

Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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