Birmingham bin problems highlighted in Ombudsman report

From repeated missed collections to failing to return vulnerable people’s bins to the proper place, Birmingham’s refuse service has been criticised in a report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Collating the complaints of 17 city residents, the Ombudsman report details how refuse collectors repeatedly failed to collect waste, and to compound matters didn’t respond to people’s complaints properly.

In one case, the council has been asked to pay a woman, who has an assisted bin service, £300 for failing to make any collections since September 2018 when the council changed its routes.

In another, a woman, who uses a wheelchair, said the council regularly failed to collect not just her household waste and recycling, but also her clinical waste, and then it gave her incorrect advice on how to dispose of it. When the council did collect her waste, she was left unable to leave her home because operatives left her bin blocking her path.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said:

"Bin collections should be a relatively easy service to deliver and get right. Sadly, in the cases we have highlighted the council did not learn from the complaints it was receiving and be proactive in ensuring things were put right as soon as possible.

“I appreciate the council had problems with the changes it was implementing bedding in, and industrial action. But had it responded to the complaints properly in the first instance, rather than issuing generic response letters, these repeated issues may have been picked up sooner.

“This report aims to help improve systems and processes in not just delivering the refuse service but also responding to complaints that come to the council.  Anyone who is experiencing problems with the refuse collection service should report these to the council. They must first have completed the council’s complaints process before we can register a complaint. Any cases that then come to us will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

The Ombudsman issued a focus report in 2017 highlighting the problems it was seeing with refuse collections nationally. At the time, it was upholding 81% of complaints it investigated about refuse and recycling. In 2018-19 it upheld 85% nationally.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to each of the 17 people identified in the report.

It will pay seven of the residents £100, nine of the residents £200 and one resident £300 in recognition of the frustration and difficulties the problems have caused.

For 10 of the residents it will put in place a three-month period of monitoring to ensure waste collections are made on scheduled days, including returning bins to the correct storage point for two of the residents receiving assisted collections.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will review the way it considers and responds to refuse complaints to ensure its responses address the specific issues raised. It will also carry out a ‘lessons learned’ review to look at what went wrong with the planning and implementation of the changes to its waste collections.

Article date: 29 August 2019

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