£400 fines for putting rubbish in the bin

Now Rother Council has joined Camden Council in fining members of the public for putting their rubbish in the bin.

A woman in Battle, East Sussex, picked up waste that had been strewn over a council carpark after seagulls ripped open bin bags. Because she put the rubbish in the carpark bins, she was sent a £400 pound fine for ‘fly tipping’.

Like Camden, Rother Council subcontracts enforcement to a private company, who is paid per fine (in this case, the company is National Enforcement Solutions).

At worst, the lady made a well-intentioned mistake of putting rubbish in the nearby bins. By no accounts could her actions be called ‘fly tipping’, and put on a par with somebody dumping black bags of rubbish in a beauty spot.

The rubbish in question did not belong to the lady, and it was not in her garden; she cleared it up out of an act of public spirit. That people tidying up their local areas are being slapped with fines shows that this is not about clean streets or community spirit.

Instead, these fines are being issued simply to make money. Offences are stretched to breaking point in order to issue as many penalties as possible.

Such conduct is the inevitable result of incentivised enforcement; companies need to issue a certain number fines in order to get paid and then to make a profit. Penalties for more serious offences such as fly tipping have a particularly strong incentive to be issued wherever possible.

This case is clearly not an isolated one. In response to the news story, we received an email from another member of the public with a similar experience:

I have also received one of these fines for fly tipping from Rother Council. In my case I left a small bag of items for recycling at the local communal container. The container was very full (the council had not gritted the car park in which the bin sits so had missed a collection because of the recent ice). The bag had either fallen out or been taken out of the bin (which is not locked) and had been found beside the bin. I have submitted representations to the council (in reality whoever they have contracted this out to), but these have not been upheld without any reason given. As someone who has never been in trouble for anything before I am upset and shocked to have received this notice. I believe the enforcement company employed by the council is acting out of a profit motive and has not taken proportionate steps.

Here, the penalty appears to have been partly the result of the council’s failure to collect rubbish.

Indeed, in other cases, members of the public have received fly tipping fines from private companies when the council failed to collect their rubbish.

At present, there is a toxic combination of combination of failing public services and predatory private enforcement companies employed on commission. Members of the public trying to do the right thing are caught in the middle.

‘Fining for profit’ violates Defra guidance, as well as basic principles of due process and proportionality. It is these penalties that are outside the law, and should be stopped forthwith.