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. 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.

I live where I work. The council charges me for collecting my rubbish, but none of my neighbours have to pay. Is this right or can I complain to the Ombudsman?

The council only has a duty to collect household waste free of charge. For industrial/ commercial waste, the person producing the waste has to dispose of it responsibly, either themselves or by paying someone else to do it. The type of waste is determined by the property it comes from. So, for example, a cardboard box which packaged a TV and is disposed of outside a house is household waste, while a wrapper for a sandwich discarded in an office waste bin is commercial waste.

Where a property is part commercial and part household – a ‘mixed hereditament’, for example, a public house or a post office – councils are entitled to charge for all the waste. But most councils follow Government advice that they should collect one waste bin each week free of charge. If your council is charging you for all your waste you should check its policy and what, if anything, it took into account before deciding to make a charge.

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

The council collects garden waste every two weeks. Mrs A complained that for nine months the contractor had repeatedly failed to collect it. She had already complained twice to the council who had apologised, and spoken to the contractor. Mrs A complained to the Ombudsman because her garden waste had not been collected for two months and she was unable to collect all the autumn leaves due to lack of space. We asked the council to immediately clear the backlog of waste. The council also did a period of monitoring, paid a small financial remedy and produced an action plan to stop it happening again.
Mr W complained that the council was making him use two wheelie bins; previously he had been able to use black bags. He thought the bins would take up too much space and he didn’t think he had a suitable space to store them without ruining his garden. We were unable to help Mr W because there was no administrative fault. Wheelie bins were being introduced across the borough as part of a new refuse and recycling policy. There had been a period of consultation and each property had been surveyed to assess if they had room to store bins. Mr W had been assessed as having room and the council had offered assistance in laying a hard surface for the bins. Whilst Mr W disagreed with the new policy the Ombudsman was unable to intervene as there was no evidence of any administrative fault.

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.

June 2016