Council rubbish bin collection fines to be scrapped

Image caption,
Residents can receive a fixed-penalty notice if they repeatedly break the rules on rubbish collections

Fines for residents who break the rules on rubbish collections in England are to be scrapped.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman is expected to announce next month that the charges will be outlawed in all but the most serious cases of fly-tipping.

Meanwhile, ministers have warned councils against "charging by the back-door" for refuse services.

This includes forcing residents to buy "official" rubbish sacks from the council rather than other suppliers.

'Small minority'

At the moment, people can be fined with a fixed-penalty notice if they repeatedly break the rules covering rubbish collections, such as recycling incorrectly or leaving waste out on the wrong day.

The government will now remove most of those powers from English town halls, following a promise last year to scrap them.

The environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth argued fines should be retained for some persistent offenders.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Dr Michael Warhurst said councils should assist people so they are not fined through a lack of knowledge.

But he added: "If someone isn't recycling properly they can send someone round to help, and then if you go through and you find that someone is really deliberately not doing anything, that's when you start looking at fines."

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said the government was "all over the place" on waste and recycling.

She said it announced a waste review last summer that still had not been published and added the Conservatives had abandoned any hope of achieving a "zero waste" Britain.

"They have nothing positive to say about working with local authorities to improve recycling and cut the amount of rubbish going to landfill," she said.

Meanwhile, Local Government Minister Bob Neill and Environment Minister Lord Henley have written to councils in England after concerns that a "small minority" were going beyond their legal powers to charge for refuse collections.

Their letter reminds local authorities they can charge for collecting bulky or garden waste but not regular rubbish.

Councils are also not allowed to impose a call-out fee if rubbish collectors arrive at a property but are unable for some reason to pick up the waste at that time.

Charging by 'backdoor'

The ministers said councils must not force residents to buy "official" rubbish sacks from the town hall in places where people had to purchase their own bags, warning that authorities should not create a monopoly.

They wrote: "In short, councils cannot introduce 'backdoor' bin charging for mainstream waste collections or waste disposal.

"Such stealth taxes are not legal and are contrary to the policy direction of the new government."

Ministers are currently passing legislation to get rid of the previous Labour government's policy of offering councils the chance to take part in pilot "pay-as-you-throw" schemes which charge households which create the most rubbish.

Lord Henley and Mr Neill said the government believed such initiatives would encourage fly-tipping and burning in gardens, and impose added costs to families which were already struggling financially.

In another development, councils appear to be rejecting government calls to change back from fortnightly to weekly bin collections.

In January Mr Neill said he wanted to "reverse the legacy of Labour's savage cutbacks to weekly rubbish collections".

But a survey of UK councils by the Press Association shows 69 of the 117 which responded had fortnightly pick ups, and of those none planned to increase the frequency of collections.

Many authorities warned their costs would dramatically increase, affecting efforts to raise their recycling rates.

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