Common sense returns for bin fines

Untitled 28. Wheelie Bin - Auckland, 2011Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP has announced that new legislation will be introduced this year which will scrap hefty fines for putting a bin out on the wrong day. Talking to the BBC Sunday Politics Pickles promised: ’Fines for putting a bin out on the wrong day would be scrapped. If you put the wrong yoghurt pot into the wrong bin, it is ludicrous to fine people.’

This is an issue that we have been keeping an eye on for several years. Lifting The Lid highlighted that 68 local authorities had been secretly putting microchips in residents’ bins. The research revealed that at least 2.6 million households have had their bins microchiped. Eric Pickles is absolutely right to take action to abolish these powers and to try to bring some sanity to the way councils seemingly view themselves as a police force free to pass absurd rules and dole out fines on a whim.

Until now, local authorities have been allowed to threaten people with fines of up to £1,000 for failing to bring your bin in on time. Both our reports ( A Legacy of Suspicion and The Grim RIPA) investigated the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and highlighted the rise in the use of surveillance powers by local and public authorities.In the case of waste disposal, this isn’t happening in one or two serious cases, research has shown that in 2011-2012, 3,200 fines were issues by local authorities for rubbish related offences, including leaving bin lids open. However, despite criticism councils have defended their position stating that bins could present a hazard to disabled people and drivers and prevented grass from growing.

Colchester Borough Council in Essex proves that the change in the law is clearly needed. The council has announced that it will introduce a new computer system installed in the collection lorries which records how many black bags are left outside of each house. Householders who put out too much rubbish will subsequently be visited by a council warden, who will warn them to start recycling. Failure to act on the advice within three weeks will result in a fixed penalty notice of between £60 and £80.

It is heartening that the Government is taking a common sense stance towards working with households rather than reprimanding them. These fines have incentivised surveillance and contributed to the collapse of trust as residents feel their councils are more interested in fining them than delivering valuable services. Clearly, there are much better ways of improving recycling and keeping streets clean than heavy handed fines and over-zealous enforcement of regulations.