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Government attacks councils for planning to charge landlords for student collections

Ministers from Defra and DCLG have confronted local authorities that have been considering charging landlords for collecting waste from students in privately rented accommodation blocks.

A joint letter from resources minister Lord de Mauley and communities secretary Eric Pickles to local authorities expressed concern there could be a rise in fly-tipping and illegal dumping if waste collection costs were forced onto landlords and then passed onto students.

Over time clean-up costs could then hurt councils financially, they added.

Students are legally exempt from council tax. But Manchester, Bristol and Sheffield City Councils have explored charging landlords of student accommodation for collections with their legal teams, according to the Local Government Association (LGA). It claims that under The Controlled Waste Regulations 2012, councils could be allowed to do so legally.

In a statement DCLG said: “This style of so called ‘backdoor’ bin charging goes against the intentions of the regulations. Such charges should not be made on blocks of privately rented student accommodation and ministers have made clear that they are prepared to legislate if councils insist on continuing these exploitative charges.”

Defra ‘dithering’ over charges

Cllr Clyde Loakes, vice chair of the LGA’s Environment and Housing Board, said: “Local authorities want to do the right thing but are currently a little confused. Just last year Government laid out new regulations, which enabled councils to introduce commercial waste charges for these sorts of businesses because they do not pay business rates or council tax.

“If Government is now saying that its own regulations are not in line with their policy then they need to make this explicitly clear by revising the regulations and removing the scope for confusion. It’s untrue and unfair to say that councils are imposing back door bin taxes.”

Sheffield City Cllr Jack Scott, cabinet member for the environment said:  “So far, we have not charged any student accommodation sites in Sheffield for their waste collection, though we have approved a policy to enable us to do this in the future. Defra is dithering about this issue and they need to make a decision.”

He added: “The Government’s massive cuts to local authorities mean we have to examine every option to raise money in order to protect services. It should be remembered that many of these companies have multi-million turnovers and are FTSE-listed but do not contribute at all to the resources of councils, either through council tax or business rates, so there is clearly a question over continuing to collect huge amounts of waste for free when council’s budgets are being so tightly squeezed by government.”

Disappointing Government action

The nature of the Government response has disappointed trade body the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM).

CIWM chief executive Steve Lee said that the issue should have been handled more constructively, without digs from Pickles about “sneaky councils” making a “quick buck”. Lee said the Government should have worked with local authorities rather than releasing the joint letter.

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