Scaling back councils’ powers to take action against residents that repeatedly overfill their bins and contaminate recyclable materials could undermine their function as a deterrent, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.
In a response to a consultation launched by Defra in January 2012 the LGA said that removing the ultimate criminal sanction could force councils to issue more fixed penalty notices in order to achieve the same level of compliance.
In the consultation on amending the powers of local authorities regarding the presentation of household waste for collection, Defra put forward two options, including the removal of the criminal sanction, instead replacing it with a civil system and the reduction of fines.
The LGA said it could not support either of the options and instead suggested either the system remains the same or a dual model which offered councils a choice should be considered.
In its response the LGA stated: “The consultation proposes both the reduction in the level of fines, and in Option 2 removal of the ultimate criminal sanction, neither of which the LGA can support. It does not feel sensible to drastically reduce (or remove altogether) the powers councils have to ensure residents separate their waste appropriately for recycling at a time when Defra is consulting on the expectations on councils to meet recycling quality standards.”
Under the proposals put forward by Defra the criminal offence would be abolished and replaced with a civil sanction. Local authorities will continue to be able to issue fixed penalties, but only if they can prove that a household is causing ‘harm to local amenity’ by putting out their rubbish in the wrong way.
The LGA believes the ‘harm to local amenity’ test must be determined at a local level within ‘certain broad parameters’ which includes the contamination of recycling.
Defra is also planning to reduce fixed penalty notices to £60 – £80 with a minimum of £40 for early payment bringing it in line with ‘other offences such as parking fines and shoplifting’.
Quoting research by Defra, the LGA said in its response that in 2008/9 only 1,162 fixed penalties were issued, 286 of which were later cancelled. Of the remaining 876 only 100 were involved in criminal prosecutions due to non-payment. Compared to the ‘hundreds of millions of receptacles’ collected every year the LGA claims this is a minimal percentage and believes it highlights the fines’ predominant value as a deterrent.
The LGA stated that the best course of action was to maintain the current system and failing this, councils should be offered a dual model similar to that currently operating in London. It claims that this would allow those councils that wish to offer a civil sanction to do so and at the same time allow other to maintain the current regime.
“The value of this dual model suggestion is that it would support the government’s commitment to localism and at the same time recognises the value of local authority decision making in knowing what’s best to deal with the issues in each of their localities.”