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Ministerial letter warns councils against “illegal stealth waste collection taxes”

Councils have been warned against “illegal stealth taxes” and the creation of waste container monopolies in a letter from local government minister Bob Neill and environment minister Lord Henley.

The letter, which was sent to all local authorities and seen by MRW, states: “Councils cannot introduce ‘backdoor’ bin charging for mainstream waste collections or waste disposal. Such stealth taxes are not legal and are contrary to the policy direction of the new Government.”

The Government has already announced plans to repeal Climate Change Act legislation which awarded local authorities powers to charge households which generated above a certain amount of waste – known as pay-as-you-throw. But ministers felt the need to write to councils after it came to their attention that “a small minority of local authorities may be exceeding their legal powers in relation to charging householders for waste services”.

The letter reiterates the legal limits for waste charging powers awarded to local authorities under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It said: “You may not charge for the collection of any other types of wastes, nor do you have the power to levy ‘call-out’ charges in cases where operatives call at the property but the waste is not collected. You should also note that local authorities have no power to reclaim the cost of disposing of these wastes from the householder.

“You may require that the receptacle meets reasonable specifications, such as being compatible with your collection vehicles, but if you require householders to purchase their own receptacle, whether for all or part of their waste services, you should refrain from creating a monopoly. You may not require the householder to purchase the receptacle from a single supplier.” 

It is not clear how the warning relates to councils that have elected to operate a ’compulsory recycling service’, which could charge residents with fixed penalty notices for not correctly recycling their waste.

Harrow Council has operated a compulsory recycling service for certain material streams since 2006 with commingled recyclables and alternate weekly residual waste collections. Council portfolio holder for environment and community safety Phillip O’Dell, said: “People in Harrow tell us they want to do their bit and are, on the whole, keen recyclers, but there are always going to be those who need encouragement.

“Making recycling compulsory sends out a clear message about how important it is, both in terms of the environmental impact and the rising cost to our residents of sending waste to landfill, but we have never resorted to fining residents.

“We prefer to educate people on the benefits of recycling and doing all we can to help them divert waste from landfill. This approach has had a dramatic impact effect on recycling rates in Harrow. In 2006 we were recycling about 26% of our waste. This year we’re on target to reach 50% – the second highest rate in London.”

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