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South Hams District Council (21 011 575)

Category : Environment and regulation > Refuse and recycling

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 28 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains that the Council failed to collect his waste on over 20 occasions between October 2020 and October 2021. We have discontinued our investigation into Mr X’s complaint as it raises the same issues as a previous test complaint and the focus should be on the Council addressing the issues with the waste collection service to improve its service for all residents.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains that the Council failed to collect his waste on over 20 occasions between October 2020 and October 2021 and that it blocked his reports of missed collections. As a result Mr X has been caused distress and put to avoidable time and trouble in having to travel to a waste centre to dispose of his waste.
  2. Mr X also complains that the Council has suspended its garden waste collection service until spring 2022.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the complaint and the information provided by Mr X and the Council’s responses to his complaint. I have also taken account of our decision on complaint 20012583.

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What I found

  1. Councils have a duty under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to collect household waste and recycling in its area.
  2. Councils may also collect garden waste but this is a discretionary service and not a service councils are obliged to provide.

What happened

  1. The Council introduced changes to its waste collection rounds in October 2020. Between October 2020 and October 2021, the Council’s waste contractor missed approximately 20 waste and recycling collections at Mr X’s property. Mr X tried to report the missed collections via the Council’s website but received incorrect notifications saying he had not presented the waste on time. Mr X also tried to report the missed collections by telephone.
  2. In late October 2020 Mr X made a complaint to the Council after not receiving any waste or recycling collections for four weeks. The Council responded at stage one of its complaint procedure. It said recent round restructures to accommodate future additional recycling collections had caused a higher number of missed collections which the contractor had difficulty in rescheduling. The Council agreed the service to Mr X was unacceptable. Mr X requested his complaint be escalated to stage two. The Council apologised for the disruption caused by the round changes and explained the action it had taken to address the problems. This included in-cab technology, additional crews and weekend working. The Council also said that crews were not aware of the collection point for Mr X’s waste and it had now recorded this on the in-cab system.
  3. The Council missed Mr X’s collections on several more occasions up to October 2021. He made a further complaint in November 2021. The Council responded to Mr X . It advised it had raised penalty rectifications with its contractor for the failure to collect Mr X’s waste and the contractor was working to improve the service. The Council also advised that the national HGV driver shortage was also causing disruption to the service.
  4. The Council suspended its garden waste collection service until Spring 2022 due to driver shortages. The suspension was to ensure the Council could provide its statutory collection services including waste and recycling.
  5. Mr X has said the missed collections have caused distress to him and contributed to his decision to move from the area. The missed collections have also put him to avoidable time and trouble as he has had to dispose of his waste by taking it to a waste centre some 10 miles way from his property.
  6. The problems with the waste collection service have affected a significant number of residents. The Council has acknowledged its contractor has not provided the service it would have wanted. It is working with the contractor to address the issues.

Analysis

  1. The Ombudsman is a publicly funded organisation and we have to target our limited resources to those investigations where we can have the most impact. We have considered a previous complaint about the problems with the Council’s waste collection service and examined the wider public interest issues. We considered this to be a test complaint and we do not intend to conduct further investigations into the same issues. Our expectation is for the Council to focus on addressing the underlying issues with its waste collection service and learn lessons to improve the service for all residents in the future.
  2. I acknowledge the numerous missed collections have caused distress to Mr X and put him to avoidable time, trouble and expense in having to dispose of his waste. But Mr X’s complaint about the missed waste collections raises the same issues as those examined in the test case so I will discontinue my investigation into Mr X’s complaint.
  3. Mr X has also complained about the Council’s decision to suspend its garden waste service. I do not intend to investigate this complaint as it is unlikely I will find fault. The Council provides a garden waste service at its discretion and it is a not a statutory service. The Council is therefore entitled to make a decision as to whether it can continue to provide this service.
  4. Mr X can make a further complaint to the Council and Ombudsman if he experiences problems with the waste collection service once the Council has taken the action to address the underlying issues with the waste collection service.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued my investigation into Mr X’s complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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