Waste and refuse

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have concerns about how their council collects and deals with household rubbish  and commercial/industrial waste.

I can't get all my rubbish in my wheelie bin, and the council won't collect additional bags. Can the Ombudsman help?

Councils have a duty to collect household waste free of charge, but they can limit the number of bins they are prepared to collect. The council can tell you where you must put your bin, and what you can and can’t put in it. The council can impose other rules too, provided they are not unreasonable, and it has given you adequate notice. . For example, it can require you to use a certain box or bin or change the waste collection day. We may be able to help if you think the council has been unreasonable or if your personal circumstances make it difficult for you to comply with the council’s requests.

The council is charging for garden waste – I don’t have any trees in my garden so I should not have to pay

A council does not have to collect garden waste but it is a service it can choose to provide. It is allowed to make a charge and most councils do. The charge applies to everyone who chooses to use the service regardless of whether the leaves and other garden waste comes from trees and vegetation that do not belong to the resident (i.e all the leaves fall from street trees). If the person thinks the charge is excessive, or unfair, they do not have to use the service.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We deal with complaints about household and commercial refuse collections; transfer, landfill and public amenity sites; fly tipping and notices served on people to clean up their gardens. We look at the facts of each case. If you have kept records or taken photographs, these may be very helpful. We consider whether the council has done something wrong and, if it has, the effect this has had on you. Some faults we might find are that the council:

  • unreasonably refused to collect all household waste
  • failed to issue a warning before taking action
  • failed to ensure a landfill site was not a nuisance to its neighbours, or
  • charged for clearing rubbish from private land without giving the owner a chance to clear it first.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

It depends on what the consequences are for you and what fault we find, but generally:

  • we would ask the council, wherever possible, to do what is necessary to put you back in the position you would have been in but for its fault and to ensure that, in future, the fault is not repeated
  • if it is not possible to remedy your complaint in this way, we may ask the council to pay you compensation, and/or
  • if your complaint reveals faults in the council’s policies or procedures, we would ask the council to put those right.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mrs A has assisted collection – the council should collect and return the bins to an agreed point. During 2018 there were repeated missed collections of general waste and garden waste. Mrs A reported the missed collections but the Council closed the reports on its system without taking any action to collect the waste or improve the service. At times Mrs A went for three weeks without a collection and this continued, on and off, for most of 2018. The Council registered a complaint but only considered it in relation to garden waste not the refuse.
The on-going missed collections caused frustration and inconvenience, especially for someone registered for assisted collection. We asked the council to apologise, check that everyone knows the location of the agreed collection point, carry out a period of monitoring and pay Mrs A..
Mr S complained that the council had not collected his recycling and would not give him a larger bin. The council explained it had not taken the recycling because it was contaminated with items that could not be recycled. It did, however, after Mr S’s complaint, empty the bin. The council also explained he could not have a larger bigger bin because they are only offered to households of at least six people. Mr S lived with two other people. Mr S wanted action taken against the council due to the missed collection and because it would not give him a bigger bin.
We could not help Mr S because the council had provided a good reason for not collecting the recycling and it had given advice to help Mr S manage his recycling. In addition, the decision not to give Mr S a bigger bin reflected the policy so there was nothing for us to investigate.

Examples of some complaints we will not usually consider

We will not usually investigate complaints of one or two missed collections. We do not expect councils to pay a financial remedy for a single missed collection or a limited number of missed collections. Councils do not give council tax refunds for missed collections and we do not expect them to. We may investigate if there have been a series of missed collections over a number of months.  We may get involved sooner if someone’s assisted collections are being missed.

Other sources of information

Many councils will have their refuse collection policy on their website. Find your council’s website at www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

October 2019