Proposed changes to the law by which householders can be fined by local authorities for misuse of rubbish could see councils forced to “jump through onerous hoops”, waste experts have warned.
Defra’s proposals, designed to stop councils penalising households that overfill their bins or leave rubbish out on the wrong day, could adversely affect residents and the environment, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management said.
CIWM chief executive Steve Lee said proposals to only allow councils to act if they can prove a household is causing “harm to local amenity” by putting out rubbish wrongly, could be problematic.
Lee said: “Councils strive to provide convenient collection services, and the majority of us show respect for our neighbours and communities and use these services properly.
“CIWM is concerned that if councils are forced to jump through onerous hoops to prove ‘harm to the local amenity’, then taxpayers and the environment will ultimately bear the cost of those who don’t.”
He added: “Most councils use fines as a last resort, and it is important that they continue to have the necessary powers to take action against those who persistently contaminate the local environment or compromise recycling by discarding poorly contained rubbish,”
Under the current system, councils have the power to issue fixed penalty notices of up to £110, or push for criminal convictions and a fine of up to £1,000.
Waste minister Lord Taylor has written to all councils about plans to make interim changes to reduce the level of penalties to as little as £40 from this Spring.
The interim cut in the range of fixed penalties will be from £75-110 to £60-80, with a discounted rate of £40 for early payment. If councils do not specify the amount of the fixed penalty notices, a default of £60 will apply.
The intention to reduce penalties for incorrectly putting out household waste for collection was set out in the Waste review, published in June 2011.
The existing powers and penalties are outlined in section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The changes proposed in this consultation will apply in England only and the consultation closes on 9 March.
Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said: “We want to see people helping us to boost recycling rates by putting out their rubbish correctly, but bullying them with fines is not the way to do it. This consultation will mean that only those causing real problems for their community will get punished.”
The Local Government Association said councils only ever issued fines “as an absolute last resort”.
Cllr David Parsons (Con), chairman of the LGA Environment Board, said: “Only a tiny minority of households persistently leave their waste piled up in the street or wilfully contaminate their recycling – which means all other recyclables collected alongside them have to be sent to landfill.
“Local authorities would much rather use a carrot than a stick to encourage people to recycle.
“In exceptional cases, where repeated attempts to help and educate have failed, councils need effective and proportionate powers to ensure the inconsiderate actions of the few are not allowed to jeopardise the recycling efforts of the majority.”