Bin collection complaints upheld by watchdog up 12% on last year

Investigations found issues including repeated missed collections
Investigations found issues including repeated missed collections
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The number of complaints about bin collections which were upheld by the local government watchdog rose sharply this year, a report shows.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman upheld more than four-fifths (81%) of its investigations into complaints about services involving rubbish, and has warned outsourcing of bin collections to private companies was at the root of many issues.

This year's figure was a sharp increase on the previous year's 69% of complaints upheld, and well above the average rate of 53% for all types of investigation by the ombudsman.

With many councils outsourcing waste services, one of the common problems is insufficient oversight of contractors and councils not taking full ownership of ensuring issues are addressed, a new report from the ombudsman said.

Investigations found issues including repeated missed collections, sometimes compounded by infrequent bin rounds, poor complaint handling, and problems with assistance for those with disabilities.

Cases included a woman who had to phone her council every fortnight for three months to get her rubbish collected, while others saw food waste or garden waste collections repeatedly not picked up.

In one instance, a man had to take his rubbish to a relative for more than three months because the council failed to collect it.

And a man receiving assisted collections did not have his recycling bin returned to the right place for 10 months, with waste crews telling him it took too long to bring it back.

Around two-fifths of English local authorities - 140 councils - outsource waste and recycling collections to the private sector, with services that typically have less frequent bin pick-ups, more sorting of waste and charges for things that were once free, the report said.

The ombudsman receives around 500 complaints and inquiries about bin services each year.

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."

And he said: "I hope councils take on board the learning points from our report, particularly by properly overseeing contractors; ensuring people's concerns are listened to, and appreciating that contracting out and charging for services brings with it different expectations from the public."

Martin Tett, environment spokesman at the Local Government Association, said the number of complaints to the ombudsman was very small compared with the millions of households who had waste collected each week.

"Councils know that having a reliable and efficient waste collection and recycling service is hugely important to residents.

"It is actually one of the most popular services councils provide with almost 80% of people happy with the way their bins are collected."

He added that with councils seeing their core central government funding cut by £2.2 billion this year, many were having to find innovative and cost-effective ways of delivering services such as rubbish collections.

"Councils will, of course, examine the findings of this report for lessons to learn, particularly around monitoring outsourced contracts to ensure they continue to provide value for money and the high-quality services our residents expect," he added.