Outsourcing at the root of too many upheld bin collection complaints

Councils in England are getting it wrong too often when it comes to waste collection complaints, says the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Its new report - Lifting the lid on bin complaints – shows the Ombudsman upheld 81% of its complaint investigations into council waste and recycling services last year. This shot up from 59% the year before. 

With many councils outsourcing waste services, one of the common issues the Ombudsman sees is insufficient council oversight of those contractors. Many of its upheld complaints feature councils not taking full ownership of ensuring service issues are responded to properly. 

This leaves residents frustrated at having to raise concerns about their bin collections to their council time and time again. 

Other common issues the Ombudsman sees from its investigations include: 

  • Repeated missed collections - sometimes compounded by the infrequent nature of collections 
  • Poor complaint handling and problems monitoring reported issues 
  • Issues with assisted collections for those with disabilities or mobility problems 

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: 

“Councils can contract out their waste services, but they cannot wash their hands of it. They are responsible and accountable for delivering those services, and for putting things right when they go wrong. Outsourced should not mean out of touch.

“Whether the service is outsourced or not, we shouldn’t be upholding 81% of the complaints we investigate – this is too much, particularly for a service that should be relatively simple to get right. 

“Many thousands of bins are collected successfully every day in England. But the complaints we investigate tell the story of real public experiences. No matter how trivial it may seem to some, people are right to expect councils to take their concerns seriously and act on them. When things go wrong, it’s how councils put them right that really matters. 

“I hope councils take onboard the learning points from our report, particularly by properly overseeing contractors; ensuring peoples’ concerns are listened to, and appreciating that contracting out and charging for services brings with it different expectations from the public.” 

The report features stories from some of the Ombudsman’s investigations, including: 

  • a woman who had to phone her council every fortnight for three months just to get her rubbish collected 
  • a man who was taking his rubbish to a relative for more than three months because the council did not collect it 
  • a man receiving assisted collections who didn’t have his bin returned to the right place for 10 months. 

The report suggests ways councils could improve their waste services and complaint handling, based on learning from the Ombudsman’s casework. It will help local councillors support people who raise queries about bin collections and there is a set of questions to help councillors scrutinise their local authority’s services. 

The Ombudsman receives around 500 complaints and enquiries about bin collections every year and its uphold rate of over 80% is significantly higher than the average uphold rate of 53% for all types of investigation. 

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services. 

If someone has a problem with the waste and recycling service, they should: 

  • Report it to the council as soon as possible. The council’s website should explain how to report a missed collection. If not, call them to find out how to report the problem. 
  • If the problem is not rectified in a reasonable period of time, make an initial complaint. This might be to the contractor or to the council depending on their process. 
  • If you are still dissatisfied, escalate your complaint with the contractor or council. 
  • Complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman if you are still unhappy after you have completed the local complaints procedure. 

Article date: 23 August 2017