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Buckinghamshire Council (21 011 364)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 29 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was fault by the Council, in this complaint about the inconsiderate parking of a waste collection vehicle. Although the Council upheld the complainant’s concerns, its efforts to address the issue were not successful at the time. The complainant says the problem appears now to be resolved, but the Council has agreed to offer him a remedy for his time and trouble pursuing the complaint.

The complaint

  1. I will refer to the complainant as Mr R.
  2. Mr R says a waste collection crew, operated by a contractor on the Council’s behalf, frequently left their vehicle outside his house, with the engine running, when taking breaks. He complains this created unnecessary pollution, both to his home and to the general environment.

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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. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I reviewed Mr R’s correspondence with the Council, and the Council’s records of its internal correspondence and the discussions it had with the waste contractor.

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What I found

  1. In February 2021, Mr R contacted the Council to report that a waste collection crew had taken to parking their vehicle on the road outside his house when they took their daily break. He made clear he had no objection to this in itself, but asked the Council to ensure they switched the vehicle’s engine off while it was parked. Mr R said the crew had not been doing this, creating pollution from diesel fumes at his home, as well as being generally bad for the environment.
  2. The Council agreed with Mr R and said it would discuss the matter with its waste collection contractor. However, Mr R subsequently reported back to the Council that it was still happening.
  3. Later in 2021 Mr R submitted formal complaints to the Council on the same matter. The Council upheld Mr R’s complaints, again agreeing it was unacceptable for the crew to leave the vehicle’s engine running, and continued to raise the issue with the contractor.
  4. Even after completing the Council’s complaints process, Mr R said the problem was still happening regularly. In November, he referred his complaint to the Ombudsman.
  5. I spoke to Mr R in mid-February 2022, and he told me he had not seen the vehicle parked outside his house for approximately six weeks. He believed the crew may now be parking elsewhere for their break.

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Analysis

  1. Mr R complains the waste collection crew left their vehicle with the engine running outside his house while taking their break. He said this could sometimes be for up to an hour, and on some occasions he believes the crew even left the vehicle unattended during that time.
  2. I should first note the Council has not disputed any point of Mr R’s complaint. It agreed this practice was unacceptable, and swiftly took the matter up with the waste contractor. I have also seen records of the discussion it had with the contractor, and although I am not at liberty to disclose this information for reasons of confidentiality, I am entirely satisfied the Council took the matter seriously. In this respect I have no criticism of it.
  3. But despite this, the problem continued until, it appears, the end of 2021. I cannot say for certain why this happened, but it appears it may simply be that the crew members failed to adhere to the instructions they had been given.
  4. Given they are contractors, my understanding is the Council will have no direct role in the day-to-day management of the waste crews. However, the Council retains ultimate responsibility for its administrative functions, and this includes the conduct of those contracted to perform such a function. Therefore, although I have no criticism of the Council itself here, I must still find fault, because it was seemingly unable to address unacceptable behaviour by crew members.
  5. And I consider Mr R was put to unnecessary time and trouble in pursuing this, which is an injustice the Council should offer to remedy.
  6. As the problem is now apparently resolved, there is nothing further I will recommend the Council do here. However, if Mr R should begin experiencing the problem again, he should immediately report it to the Council, which should consider what other steps it can take to address the crew’s behaviour. If Mr R is dissatisfied with this, he may then make a further complaint to the Ombudsman.

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Agreed action

In my draft decision I recommended the Council offer Mr R £150 to reflect his time and trouble pursuing this matter. Although the Council agreed to this recommendation, Mr R has separately confirmed he does not wish to accept a financial remedy.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding of fault causing injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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