‘They treat us like the rubbish they are supposed to collect!’
Mounting reports from around the boroughs in the South London Waste Partnership suggest that the councils’ waste service contractors are creaking under pressure. By STEVEN DOWNES
The complaints about the rubbish service provided by council contractors Veolia are mounting up as high as the piles of waste being left around the borough.
And it is not only in Croydon that the poor levels of service are being noted.
Residents in other boroughs in the SLWP – the South London Waste Partnership – including Sutton and Merton, also locked into long-term deals multi-million-pound deals with Veolia, have been recording repeat failings that have left their streets strewn with rubbish and suffering infestations of rats and maggots.
From missed bin collections, to paid-for green waste collections that never happen, through to heaps of fly-tips that are being left to fester for weeks on end, residents are becoming increasingly angry over the lack of service that they are receiving in return for their Council Tax.
The state of Croydon’s parks and green spaces – subject to a different contract – have become an increasing concern, with volunteer work teams of Council Tax-paying residents spending their weekends picking up the litter being left by others, in the apparent absence of any council contractors to perform the routine service.
When much of the nation was entering into lockdowns during 2020, the bin men and their lorries continued to do their rounds of the borough’s streets, despite the impact of covid-19 on the workforce. But going into 2021, there has been a notable decline in the services provided, with Veolia recently blaming the shortage of HGV drivers for their troubles.
Complain to the council? Phone lines in Fisher’s Folly are rarely answered, and the council has long ago tried to steer residents to logging missed bin collections online, or by using Croydon’s notoriously CrapApp. To this day, the CrapApp has no category for reporting missed bin collections (it helps keep down the tally of missed collections, thus avoiding any tense meetings with Veolia over their poor service).
Inside Croydon has also learned that for at least a month over the summer, no incoming reports of fly-tips or missed bin collections were being logged or passed on to Veolia because the council’s rubbish in-box was not being checked. This, apparently, was due to staff shortages following the wide-ranging council redundancies carried out as a result of the borough going bust.
Even raising the matter with ward councillors has become futile. Councillors – Labour as well as Conservative – grumble quietly off-the-record that their calls to council officials are rarely answered.
The pressures on the poorly monitored system have led to further reports of residents’ carefully sorted recycling being sent straight to the Beddington incinerator, while in the warm summer weather, missed food waste collections have seen infestations of maggots and vermin appear on the doorsteps of Croydon residents.
One reader, who lives in Shirley, told Inside Croydon of their frustrating attempts to deal with Veolia: “This company has a total disregard for its customers. The management are uncontactable… I received an email from them today saying the bins were not emptied as the recycling was mixed. The damned bins are for ‘mixed recycling’.
“I was beginning to think that perhaps it was just me who thinks this company… was the most incompetent company I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. However, today I checked on Trustpilot and it seems all over the UK, this company treats its customers with shameful service.
“I live in a block of 12 flats over commercial premises in Shirley. For the last six weeks I have been trying without success to get our recycling bins emptied.
“In the first half of 2020, general and recycling collections were sporadic and combined with an inadequate number of bins, this caused a significant rat problem at the property. Croydon Council ended up footing the bill for a pest control contract to deal with the issue.
“We were finally given four extra general bins and the recycling bins were changed to four ‘mixed’ ones.
“Once we received the extra bins, collections returned to a more regular collection with only the occasional failure to empty.
“But this year, collections in respect of the recycling have become infrequent, leading to the current situation where they have not been emptied for six weeks.
“If we go online to report the missed collection, the report states Veolia were unable to empty because the recycling is ‘mixed’. That’s in the ‘mixed recycling’ bins that Veolia provided to us.
“It’s that or ‘bins not presented’, even though the bins have been in same area outside the flats for years.
“I have made numerous calls to Croydon Council, I have raised missed online reports, a formal complaint (still no reply) and emailed all three local councillors, none of whom have had the courtesy to reply, even by just acknowledging the email.
“I did manage to speak to someone at the council who confirmed that various emails had been sent to Veolia requesting this issue be sorted, but they are not followed through to resolution. The staff at the council seem unable to speak directly to anyone at Veolia by phone, everything has to be done by email.
“I tried phoning Veolia myself and was told as a ‘resident’ they would not talk to me and I would need to phone Croydon Council.
“On this basis, these incompetent Veolia persons can just ignore the issue and our bins will never get emptied. It appears that Veolia have a contract where they self-govern with no consideration for local residents.
“They treat us like the rubbish they are supposed to collect!
“As in most other responsible boroughs, Croydon residents are actively encouraged to recycle, but what is the point for us to do this if the bins are not emptied and they cause the issues we have suffered?
“Last week, the agent who manages the flats for the landlord phoned the council. They agreed to get the bins cleared urgently and that a ‘waste services complaints manager’ would be in touch in due course about how the recycling would be dealt with in the future.
“A week later, and nothing has happened. This was deemed to be ‘urgent’.
“The excess bags of rubbish continue to accumulate. Some get ripped open by foxes, with the contents spilling onto the bin lids, which are now covered in loads of maggots.”
That is in Shirley.
In Addiscombe, too, Council Tax-payers are also questioning what they pay their Council Tax for.
As one resident wrote to Inside Croydon, “Bins are not being collected recently in the Addiscombe area, causing environmental problems for us.
“The pavements on Davidson Road is filled with garbage not being collected.
It’s a very unpleasant situation and a risk to the citizens of this community.”
Similar reports have been received from concerned residents and residents’ associations across Sutton and Merton, too. A fly-tip on Mitcham Common, first reported in August, has only grown in size in the subsequent four weeks or so, as others have added their trash to the festering pile, with no sign of a Veolia clean-up team.
The Shirley resident’s experience is increasingly common. In Sutton, another resident reports that uncollected recycling, piling high by a door to their flats, has now become an access hazard for their wheelchair-bound neighbour.
“I have reported this to the council using the online portal and have contacted my ward councillors directly (only one of whom even acknowledged my email) but still nothing has been done.
“One wonders what my Council Tax is being used for.
“This is now an environmental health hazard and is attracting pests. My neighbour relies on a wheelchair to get about and is worried that having to wheel over the mess will puncture her tyres and leave her housebound.”
This is not a new experience: it all happened when Veolia took over the contract in Sutton and first inflicted Binmageddon on that borough.
But as the multiple missed collections mount up across this part of south London, with vermin and health hazards arising, questions arise as to when elected representatives – often ignored by the councils’ professional staff – will decide that Veolia’s service is not fit for purpose? Or why it is that senior council directors seem so ready to give Veolia an easy ride over their poor performance?
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