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London councils resisting waste fine changes

Councils in London have said that government moves to prevent the criminalisation of residents who are negligent with their waste will undermine a system in the capital that is already working well.

One of the consequences of the current Deregulation Bill is to decriminalise the offence across the country, based on a system that has already existed in the capital following the introduction of the London Local Authorities Act in 2007.

In 2013, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “Putting out your rubbish should be a simple process and it is ludicrous that we have a system where a milk carton in the wrong bin, or a wheelie bin a few inches out of place can lead to people facing bigger fines than shoplifters.”

London councils are concerned that the bill will require their current system to take on unnecessary complexity while creating disincentives for residents to recycle correctly.

Speaking on amendments at the third reading of the Deregulation Bill in the House of Lords, Lord True, a Conservative peer and leader of Richmond Council, said opposition in London to the measure was not “some bone-headed resistance from a bureaucratic body”.

“We have a non-criminal system that was recently established with general consent and which I do not believe needs to be tampered with. If the Government really believe in deregulation and devolution, there is no rationale whatever in changing the London system”.

Lord Tope, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Sutton was equally confused by the rationale for change.

“What is so wrong with the London legislation that it requires this Bill to change it. What are the problems? What are the issues? There is no record of people being incorrectly or inappropriately prosecuted. Indeed, there is hardly any track record of people being prosecuted at all, so that is not really the object of it.

“We have a good system that has been in legislation for just about eight years. We have a good appeals system and a waste collection system that works. What exactly are the minister and his colleagues trying to fix with this legislation?”

In reply, Defra minister Lord De Mauley said legislation should not allow residents to be issued or threatened with financial penalties the first time they make a mistake.

“The requirements on people are not always obvious, particularly when they move to an area where a different collection system applies. It is right that people should find out what they have done wrong and should have the opportunity to rectify mistakes before they are asked to pay a penalty. People in London have as much right to this opportunity as anyone else in England.

“We intend to work with local government to produce advice to help local authorities implement the test with confidence. My officials are of course also happy and available to talk to representatives from London Councils and others about the practicalities of operating this system if that would be useful,” he said.

In February, London Councils, a policy group that supports London authorities, issued a briefing document saying: “This would bring in an inferior system than currently exists in the capital, adding both costs and time to the work that boroughs must do before a penalty notice can be issued”.

London Councils also believes that changes are needlessly bureaucratic and a proposed reduction in the fixed penalty from £110 to £60 is too lenient.

When the matter was debated by MPs a year ago, the Local Government Association (LGA) said that it is against the proposed changes and highlighted the effort that councils put into educating households and business about recycling and waste.

In its submission on the bill, the LGA said: “The current system functions well and existing powers are used only in extreme circumstances. Their predominant value is as a deterrent. There is no evidence that these powers are being used disproportionately and the LGA does not therefore see an evidence-based reason to change the system.”

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