Litter fines – the corruption of punishment continues

The Manifesto Club has collected new statistics showing the continuing rise of litter fines issued by private companies.

The primary company is Kingdom Security Ltd, which purchased the litter fines operation from XFor Ltd, and according to our FOI responses now works in 16 local authorities. In most cases, Kingdom Security recieves a portion of each fine issued, between £40 and £75 of a £75 fine (on average, the company retains £45). In some cases, councils pay Kingdom Security on an hourly or annual contract basis, but this arrangement comes with ‘projected income’ figures: that is, the arrangement is based on a certain number of fines being issued.

Kingdom Security and councils have denied that officers are incentivised by bonuses for fines issued. Merton Council, for example, said: ‘Under our agreement with Kingdom security no incentive scheme or structure is in place. Staff are not rewarded for the volume of FPNs issued.’ However, Kingdom Security’s job adverts indicate that the basic salary of ‘£6.97 [per hour]’ is supplemented by a ‘performance-related’ bonus to ‘OTE [on target earnings of] £20,000’. Indeed, former Kingdom Security officers have said that: ‘We had to give out four tickets a day and for any over that we would receive £5-a-ticket bonus.’

The primary findings of our FOI results are that:

1. Kingdom Security officers issued 42,529 fines in the year 2014-15. These were issued by 40.5 frontline officers (with 6 administrative staff), in 16 local authorities. This is a dramatic rise on previous figures. In 2011-12, all UK local authorities issued only 73,536 litter fines. The 13 local authorities employing Kingdom Security in 2011-12 issued a total of 18,690 fines.

2. The vast majority of these fines are issued for cigarrette butts. A typical case is given below. The reason for this is that this is the most common form of litter, which people may think it is acceptable to drop if there is not a cigarette bin available. It is also easy to catch because an officer can follow people smoking, knowing that it is likely they will drop the butt when they have finished. However, fines are also being issued by Kingdom Security officers for: spitting (261 fines in Hillingdon); handing out leaflets without a licence (in Croydon and in Hillingdon); and smoking in Taxi or work vehicles (Torfaen County Borough Council).

3. There are high levels of public appeals/complaints in the authorities where Kingdom Security works. In Merton, one in 6 people issued with a fine appealed the notice, while this figure was 5% in Hillingdon. The basis of these complaints included people saying that they had not committed the offence, and also complaints about the lack of litter bins and the conduct of the officers. Indeed, if councils do not provide adequate cigarette bins then smokers are left in a difficult position, since a fire in a bin would be a more grievous threat to public safety than a butt end put out on the ground or down a drain.

For the Manifesto Club, the growth of private companies fining on commission represents a serious violation of the principles of criminal justice and public service. Law enforcement should be the role of public service representatives, concerned with public goods (including clean streets), which would naturally involve targeting the most serious rather than the most minor offences.

When law enforcement is farmed out to private companies this leads to a distortion of the mechanisms of criminal justice, with a focus on ‘easy targets’ and indeed on entirely innocent people. It is very concerning that councils see fines issued to their residents as ‘cost neutral’, so long as these fines don’t impact upon the council’s budget.

The current corruption of punishment means a return to the ways of the loathed 18th century gamekeeper and customs agent, who were also paid on commission for the penalties they issued. With the formation of the modern police in the 19th century, it was recognised that punishment should be separated from private incentives and subject only to the measure of the public interest.

We are calling for fines to be controlled by strict systems of accountability, to allow people to appeal unfair fines and to clearly separate financial incentives from the issuing of fines. We are also calling for positive public service interventions – such as the provision of cigarette butt litter bins – to be attempted before the use of fining on such a dramatic scale.

Download our FOI results.


Statement from Louise, Stoke on Trent, fined by Kingdom Security:

I was visiting Rhyl for my son’s birthday. I was smoking a roll-up and my son ran into an arcade – I put the very end out on the floor and ran in after him. When I came back out of the arcade, a woman grabbed hold of me, I didn’t know who she was – she actually had a normal black fleecy jacket. She had waited for 20 minutes for me to come out the arcade. She said, ‘If you don’t give you my name and address, you are going to be arrested.’ I said ‘I’ll pick it up’, she said, ‘leave it where it is, you are going to be issued with a caution. You have been caught on CCTV’ – she showed me on the camera.

She said, ‘I’ll phone through to make sure your details are correct – if you give me false details you are going to be arrested.’ She checked my details then said ‘You aren’t going to be arrested at this point but I am going to read your rights.’ She read me your rights, which went on for a couple of minutes. She wasn’t doing it quietly either. I was mortified. She passed me a piece of paper, and said ‘I need you to sign here’. I said, ‘what’s this?’, she said, ‘your caution’. The paper said ’75 pound penalty’. I said ‘what’s this?’ A fine – she didn’t mention a fine. I said, ‘You just told me I am being issued with a caution’. She stood there laughing.

As she went further up the street, she stood there with a guy – laughing their heads off. I thought she was undercover police – she never told me where she was from. I have never in my life been treated like this. I felt about an inch tall. There wasn’t even a cigarette stub – it was a rollup – it was nothing. I’ve got a little boy standing there crying through all of this and she was just laughing. By the time we got down the street, I saw the officers issuing fines to three people in next few minutes, one was a visitor to the town like us. The next minute, I saw them running after an elderly (70-80 yrs old) couple to fine them.”