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.

Organisations the Ombudsman can look at

We hold councils to account for services they pay other organisations, including private companies, to carry out on their behalf. This means we can still investigate complaints about those services. So, if a private company collects your waste, on behalf of the council, we can still consider a complaint about the service.

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. We may also get involved if you experience repeated missed collections of you rubbish, recycling or garden waste. 

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.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process.

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; bulky waste collections; 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 a financial remedy, and/or
  • if your complaint reveals faults in the council’s policies or procedures, we may ask the council to change its procedures to improve its service and stop the problem being repeated.  .

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Ms B moved into a property in November 2019 and asked for bins and recycling boxes. The council quickly provided the recycling boxes but, despite Ms B chasing, it did not provide the bin until February. It gave different explanations for the delay, had inaccurate records and, although it had told Ms B to use sacks until she had a bin, Ms B reported that the sacks were rarely emptied. At times Ms B had to dispose of the rubbish herself.
These problems meant Ms B had to find ways of managing her rubbish until she had a bin and she was put to unnecessary frustration and disappointment. We asked the Council to pay £100 in recognition of the delay and missed collections.

Between July and November 2019 Ms T had 20 missed collections. She complained in July but the problem was not resolved until December. Although the council liaised with its contractor it was unable to provide an explanation for the missed collections or ensure a swift resolution.
Ms T had no collection for five months which caused significant injustice and concerns about health and hygiene.
Not only did we find the council was at fault for failing to collect the rubbish we also criticised it for the way it dealt with the complaint.
The council agreed to pay £250 for unnecessary distress, time and trouble as a result of the missed collections and poor complaint handling.

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.
We do not usually investigate complaints about people being disturbed by collections early in the morning, providing the collection is taking place within the times permitted by the council. Collections tend to be noisy, and some people may be disturbed, but we would not normally get involved in trying to reorganise a round because of a single complaint about sleep disturbance.

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

Focus Report - Lifting the Lid on Bin complaints.

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.

We provide 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 we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

July 2022

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