Litter louts face on-the-spot fines of £150 under new plans being drawn up by ministers following a manifesto pledge from Theresa May (pictured)
Litter louts face on-the-spot fines of £150 under plans being drawn up by ministers.
Town halls have been asking for the penalty to increase sharply from £80 and to rise to £300 for those who pay late.
They would be able to use the proceeds as they wish – raising fears that councils will use litter patrols as a cash cow.
Councils have had the power to hand out spot fines for littering, and other offences including dog fouling and fly-posting, for more than 25 years.
Theresa May’s election manifesto promised to ‘do more to reduce litter’, and a review of the level of fines has been launched.
Officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs believe existing fines raise only ‘relatively small’ amounts.
Originally litter fines were set at a flat rate of £10, and for the past 11 years the maximum fine has been £80, which can be reduced to £50 for those who pay promptly.
Councils were told that fines would keep pace with inflation if they were raised to £100.
Defra also told town halls that to encourage fast payment fines should be doubled for anyone who fails to pay within 28 days.
But a large majority of local authorities who took part in a consultation have now told told Environment Secretary Michael Gove and his officials that they want the power to levy fines of £150 for littering.
A late payer would have to hand over £300 – an amount nearly four times the present highest fine.
Councils have also asked for the right to spend the money they bring in from litter fines on anything they want to use it for.
Councils were told that fines would keep pace with inflation if they were raised to £100. But a large majority of local authorities who took part in a consultation said they want the power to levy fines of £150 for littering
Currently the revenue is used mainly for environmental and fly-tipping enforcement and clear-up.
The proposals include a watering down of the qualifications needed by officials who hand out fines. Parish council staff will no longer be required to attend training courses before they are given the right to hand out fixed penalty notices. Allison Ogden-Newton of Keep Britain Tidy said: ‘We know people want something done about litter and fining those who flout the law is an important tool for local authorities that want to tackle littering. Cleaning up after careless litterers costs almost £1billion a year, which is money that could be spent elsewhere.’
But Keep Britain Tidy said it did not support the full fine increase or the eased restrictions on collection. Miss Ogden-Newton added: ‘We support an increase in fines to £100 but we also believe that enforcement should be done by trained staff in line with Defra’s guideline.
Penalised for tipping coffee down the drain
Critics of on-the-spot fines for littering say penalties are often handed out for trivial offences – including dropping orange peel or pouring coffee down a drain.
One reason is said to be the use by councils of private collection companies to enforce littering rules and hand out penalties.
The coffee incident involved retired civil servant Sue Peckitt, from Ealing, West London, whose fine was dropped after she complained. She was later sent a £20 gift voucher as compensation.
A Hertfordshire market trader, Luke Gutteridge, was handed a fine after he dropped a piece of orange peel. He contested the case and the fine was withdrawn.
Both cases were featured by BBC’s Panorama programme earlier this year. It sent an undercover reporter to work for a company contracted by several councils to enforce litter rules, Kingdom Services.
Despite rules which forbid the use of targets, the reporter was told by a manager that for ‘every ticket over four, you get a little competency allowance’.
Asked to explain the payment, the manager said: ‘It’s a bonus.’ In one month, he said, he had made £987 in bonus money.
‘Badly done enforcement can lose public support and alienate even those who want to see action to tackle the problem.’
The Taxpayers’ Alliance said it was sceptical about the motives of some local authorities.
Campaign manager James Price said: ‘Taxpayers are already under a 30-year high tax burden, thanks in no small part to seemingly ever-increasing council tax.
‘If that wasn’t enough, councils have also been increasing the amount they raise from residents in various fines, charges and fees.
‘These latest attempts to raise even more cash from hard-pressed taxpayers is too much and councils ought to recognise the cost of living crisis high tax is creating.’
The consultation paper issued by Defra to local councils and other bodies said: ‘Littering, and associated environmental offences like dog fouling, blight our communities and impose avoidable costs on the public purse, drawing money away from priorities such as social care and education.’
It said fines had not changed since 2006, ‘but adjusting for inflation since that time means that a maximum penalty of £80 in 2006 would now be £100’.
A Defra spokesman said: ‘We received a number of responses to our proposals to increase fines on serious litterers. We are considering those responses and will set out next steps in due course.’