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Disposal test case could "cripple" councils says campaigner

A test case on the charging of waste disposal services could cripple local authorities according to a campaigner tackling the issue. Those involved are waiting for the outcome of an Audit Commission investigation to assess whether legal cases for compensation can be brought against local authorities across the UK. Councils, some of which are accused of wrongly charging schools, hospitals and charities for waste disposal will soon receive a letter from the Government clarifying the situation and reminding councils about what is in the legislation. The letter, from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), is a response to information that organisations are being charged when they should not have been. Commenting on possible compensation cases that could be brought against councils by schools, hospitals and other organisations wrongfully charged now retired waste management underwriter Henry Howe said: The liability of this could cripple councils. According to the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992, a waste collection authority can make a collection charge for household but not charge for disposal. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 defines household waste as that coming from a domestic property, caravan, residential home, school as well as non-clinical waste from hospitals and nursing homes. Charities and prisons also come under the same classification. However, Howe said that he has evidence that such organisations have been charged for disposal, or have been wrongly classified as commercial waste producers, or the council have not made the organisation aware that it is exempt. Howe is a resident in Somerset so his findings are being used as a test case for that region and an Audit Commission investigation is underway. Howe said that he initially contacted Somerset County Council but said he had met a wall of silence. He has also had a long correspondence with former Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw, which culminated in a letter from Bradshaw admitting that Environmental Protection Act (EPA) authors were naïve to assume that local authorities would automatically comply and that there should be some provision in the EPA to allow the Secretary of State to direct local authorities when they fail to comply with the regulations. A spokesman for independent auditors Grant Thornton appointed by the Audit Commission said: In our capacity as statutory auditors to Somerset County Council we are currently involved in reviewing the council's interpretation of waste regulations following allegations that these may have been misinterpreted and led to unjustified increased public costs." However, as the matter is ongoing the spokesman said: It would be premature to comment or speculate on its outcome in order not to prejudice our conclusions." A spokesman for Somerset County Council also said that they cannot comment until the Audit Commissions investigation is complete. However, an expert on waste told MRW that according to the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992 disposal can be charged for at a councils discretion. However, on hearing about the letter from Ben Bradshaw he added that perhaps some councils have over-stepped the mark.

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