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“Systemic problems” behind failure at Welsh council to heed "Assisted Lift" waste collection service complaints, Ombudsman finds

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has said the continued complaints and hundreds of calls from vulnerable residents Cardiff Council has received revealed "systemic problems" with the local authority's "Assisted Lift" waste collection service.

The Ombudsman launched an investigation into three complaints related to the service, which was established to provide help for residents who are unable to move their waste onto the street for collection in the usual way due to disability, some medical conditions or pregnancy.

The three complainants - Mrs D, Mrs F and Miss P - all complained that the service consistently did not meet their needs (in Miss P's case, her mother's needs) as vulnerable residents. They also said that the council did not respond adequately to them when they raised their concerns and complained about the service.

The Ombudsman upheld their complaints and found that the council's service to the residents was not reliable, with waste collections missed over extended periods of time and bins being left at times in unsafe positions. This not only caused unnecessary stress to the residents but also often led to a build-up of waste at their properties, causing health and safety hazards. The Ombudsman also found that the council did not properly acknowledge or act on the concerns raised about the service.

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Commenting on the report, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Nick Bennett, said: "During the last three years, we have received a number of very similar complaints about Cardiff Council's 'Assisted Lift' service. Despite the council's commitment to take action to resolve residents' concerns, we continued to receive complaints about the same issues, pointing to systemic problems with this service. This is exactly what we found during our investigation.

"Two of the complainants in this case were in their 90s. It is simply unacceptable that they should suffer the indignity of such an unreliable service for such a prolonged period of time.

"It is equally unacceptable that the council should fail to properly acknowledge or act on the residents' concerns, despite receiving repeated formal complaints and hundreds of calls. I can well understand why one of the complainants in this case told us that she was 'at her wit's end' in relation to her dealings with the council."

Mr Bennett continued: "In accepting the residents' applications for the Assisted Lift service, the council committed to help them access its waste collection services. By persistently failing to address missed collections and other problems with the Assisted Lift service, the council failed to honour that commitment.

"We are very concerned that these problems might be affecting other vulnerable residents. This is reflected in our recommendations for the Council to rapidly improve its Assisted Lift service for the benefit of all residents."

The council has agreed to the Ombudsman's recommendations, including the payment of financial redress, to rectify individual injustice to the complainants as well as to:

  • take actions to ensure that similar complaints received about the service from vulnerable residents are handled consistently and effectively;
  • carry out a comprehensive review of the service;
  • produce an action plan for improvements and share details of proposed actions with all service users.

Cardiff Council's Director for Economic Development, Neil Hanratty, said: "The council would like to take this opportunity to issue a full and sincere apology to those vulnerable citizens that received a substandard service from our assisted lift scheme. The council is determined to improve performance and customer service in this area and recognises it fell well short of the standards it sets for itself. The number of missed collections, the extent of repeat missed collections, and the poor level of customer service experienced by some residents was totally unacceptable.

"Alongside accepting all of the Ombudsman's recommendations, the council will be undertaking a further review of the assisted-lift service. Some new measures were introduced across the waste service when the council moved all collections to a single-shift system last year and 99.92% of our collections are now being achieved on time. A further review will help make sure that repeat concerns are properly escalated and dealt with in a timely fashion."

Mr Hanratty added: "We accept that our customer service wasn't anywhere near good enough and we are determined to improve it."

Adam Carey

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